Friday 20 May 2016

Chartres 2016 (4)

Having coped very well, physically, with the rigours of the pilgrimage, with a mere few blisters to show for it, I awoke on Tuesday morning feeling very rough, after a somewhat disturbed night. I am still not quite sure why; I suspect I had dehydrated a bit, and seen a bit too much of the sun on the previous afternoon, during the Mass. It had not been bright or hot, so I had not covered my head or ensured I drank lots of water. And then it may have been the addition of having a (small) beer before dinner and two (small) glasses of wine with dinner. Whatever the cause, I felt pretty dreadful and had an upset stomach to boot. What was worse was that I had also wrecked my voice by over-singing in the final miles. The reason that mattered was that I was meant to be teaching and leading the chant for our final High Mass in the crypt of Chartres Cathedral.

Fortunately James Belt and Brother Rosario were quick to learn the double Alleluia, and we all already knew the sequence. We started to learn the Introit (I have a keyboard app on my phone, which was helpful, as I couldn't sing a note to guide them) but ran out of time. For the Mass we were joined by Jamie Bogle, and between us we made a reasonable go of it (though we managed to start the Gloria at the wrong time and had to stop and wait for the Mass to catch up with us - still not quite sure how that happened).

The Mass was sung by Fr Ian Verrier, with Fr Mark Withoos as Deacon, and Fr Gerard Byrne as Sub-Deacon. Fr Withoos preached a powerful sermon on Christ as the Door. A wonderful and fitting end to the pilgrimage.

The crypt at Chartres has some claim to be the oldest Christian shrine, as it is a pre-Christian one! Apparently the Druids had had a revelation and had inscribed an altar with the words virgini pariturae: the virgin who will conceive.... This is one of the wonders of Chartres, and we were very blessed to have a Mass there.  (Amongst the other great treasures of the Cathedral are Our Lady's veil and the statue of the Black Madonna, both of which we had time to visit. ) We concluded the Mass, of course, with the Regina Caeli and the great French Marian Hymn, Chez Nous. 

After Mass, we were privileged to receive First Blessings from Fr Ian Verrier, one of our chaplains, who was ordained in the FSSP just under a year ago.

Then, it was back on the coach, and back to London, via a train that runs under the sea (What will they think of next?). I have to confess that I slept for a lot of the journey, after my rather restless night; but that did mean I was able to bowl up at my London friends' house in a fit state to be a reasonable guest for the night...

And so ended my eighth (I think) Chartres pilgrimage. 

The true highlights, of course, I have not, and cannot, describe: my confession; the reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion; some of the reflections arising from the meditations; some of the conversations with fellow pilgrims. For these, gentle reader, you will have to come to Chartres yourself.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Chartres 2016 (3)

I realise that I left out a couple of important moments on Pentecost. After the Mass we marched on, of course, and eventually ascended a hill, covered in barley fields and some light woodland, until, as we rounded a corner, we got our first glimpse on the horizon of the twin, but asymetric, spires of Chartres Cathedral. That is always a moment of special joy, and we always greet it with the Regina Caeli.

And it was not long after that I noticed what the increasingly boisterous chapter of French girl guides were singing: an old French marching song that I had first heard on the train back to Paris last year. The chorus runs as follows:

Buvons un coup, buvons en deux
A la santé des amoureux
A la santé du roi de France
Et merde pour le roi d'Angleterre
Qui nous a déclaré la guerre!

This was sung with such gusto that I was pretty sure that it was being sung in our direction. But this year we ignored it, and pressed on for the campsite at Gas.

On Monday morning we always get a lie-in. It was 5.30 before they woke us up... It was also slightly less cold than it had been the previous morning: no ice on the tents, though still pretty fresh. And the same routine: breakfast, tents packed, luggage onto the lorry... No! Jerk awake. Luggage goes onto our coach, for those staying in the hotel in Chartres. Those unfortunates who forget this have to trek down to the yard the other side of the station, and lug their luggage back up the hill to the hotel at the end of the day.

And then we march. But the end is in site, and today's march is a mere seventeen and a half miles: hardly worth putting your boots on...

By the lunch stop we are getting positively light-headed, as we realise how close we are to Chartres. And then we are singing one last rosary as we enter the city and wend our way through the outskirts. As we ascend the hill we always sing a quick Requiem aeternam at the war memorial, before launching into some serious singing of Jubilate Deo as a canon, which will take us right up to the Cathedral, until we are drowned out by its tolling bells.

This year, as the Cathedral is still full of scaffolding, as they work on the magnificent restoration project, fewer chapters than usual could fit inside. As we were well down the order of march, we were right at the back of the square outside, so could barely even see the screen. However, we got a fantastic view of the procession entering and leaving, including seeing St Joan of Arc's ring proudly carried by, which has only recently returned to France, after being bought at an auction from its previous English owner. 

And then scores of clergy, many very young, and of course the banners of all the chapters; and then a couple of bishops...  And then the High Mass, the culmination of the pilgrimage. And once again, with all the nationalities filling the square, the eminent good sense, and simple Catholicity of having Latin as a common language was apparent.

After Mass, we gathered for the traditional photo, having already said goodbye, unfortunately, to those who had to rush off for trains in order to get back to England that night. 

Then it was back to our hotel for a celebratory dinner and a glass or two of wine, before retiring to bed - bed, I tell you! For the first time since Friday night!

And just before retiring, I looked at the data captured on my iPhone:

Some Good News

I am going to be a grandfather later this year... 

Please pray for my daughter, her husband and the baby.

Chartres 2016 (2)

It is often cold over night, camping on the pilgrimage, and given that the day had been relatively mild, I put on extra layers before crawling into my sleeping bag. Nonetheless, I awoke in the small hours feeling very cold, and struggled to get back to sleep. For once, I was grateful when it was time to get up (at 5.00) and that cheery French voice that we know and love of old resounded throughout the campsite via the formidable PA System:  ‘Bonjour, chèrs amis pèlerins, il est cinq heures, et il est l'heure de se réveiller.'  Within minutes, he is chivvying us further. “Chèrs pèlerins, il est l'heure de sortir de vos tentes pour les démonter.’  And only seconds after that: “Je vois qu’il y a toujours des tentes qui ne sont pas démontées!' And all too quickly: "Les premiers chapitres départent en quelques minutes!"

Despite having been so cold, we were surprised to find that there had been such a heavy frost that some of our tents had ice on them! Packing wet tents with frozen fingers is not a lot of fun, but it did make us appreciate the hot coffee (or hot chocolate à choix) provided for breakfast, along with the ubiquitous bread rolls.

We were some way down the marching order, so had plenty of time to get our luggage to the legendary camion sac (étranger),  before raising our flags, gathering the chapter together and starting out again.

We started the day, as usual, with a morning offering, and then, it being Pentecost, sang the Veni Creator Spiritus. And then on with the same routine: marching, rosaries, meditations, songs sacred and secular, chat...

Perhaps it is worth reflecting a little on the role of the Chef de Chapitre. Nobody has ever given me a job description, but Julie Carey, (who along with her husband Francis organises the whole thing every year) let slip that they had identified me as a future Chef on hearing me sing Green Grow the Rushes-oh with great vim one year... So I conclude that one aspect of the role is to keep the chapter singing, at least intermittently. And it is certainly important: clearly singing fifteen decades of the rosary every day is at the heart of the spirituality of the pilgrimage; but also the hymns and songs are very helpful in keeping weary feet marching.

At the end of the first day, there is a long and steep hill: when one has been marching for nine hours or more, and covered some 23 miles, it is easy to find the heart sinking a little at the sight, and for limbs to feel heavy, and the whole thing to slow down. But we sang our way up the hill with gusto, and although it was long and steep (and of course, singing requires more oxygen) that really does help.

So motivating the chapter to keep going is a key role. Not least because we are, of course, required to march to someone else's pace. That is one of the things that is not immediately obvious, but actually makes it tough. There are times when the pilgrimage proceeds very slowly, with lots of stops and starts, when we have to cross roads etc. And then there are times when we are walking at a fast pace, normally to make up time when we are behind schedule.  Our job is to maintain a constant distance between ourselves and the chapter in front: close enough to stay in touch, but not so close we are breathing down their necks. 

That gap also allows the priests to walk between the chapters and hear confessions. But of course it gets more difficult when people in the preceding chapter start to straggle behind. We maintain the distance, they drop further and further behind their chapter, and suddenly their is too large a gap: we have to overtake them and catch up. And so on.

Allied to that is the maintenance of a modicum of discipline: keeping the group together, and not allowing our chapter to spread out too far, to the inconvenience of following chapters. 

Then there is the aspect of looking after people as they walk: particularly keeping an eye out for anyone struggling; but also for anyone who is alone, especially new pilgrims, and trying to make sure that they are integrated into the group.

And then there is balancing the activities as we walk: trying to have the right amount of praying, meditating, singing, chatting and so on, so that people feel that they are busy with purposeful spiritual activity, but also have sufficient unstructured time for chat, or private prayer and reflection.

As always with me, I am very much better at the theory than the practice of this art...

The highlight of this second day, of course, is the big Pentecost Mass, celebrated in the open air on a magnificently constructed altar. We were a long way back from the altar, but there was also a large screen and a good PA system, so that we could see and hear everything. Also, one of our pilgrims, Mordi, kindly does a simultaneous translation of the sermon for us, so that we can follow that (the rest of the Mass is in Latin, of course, so following it is easy). 

The Consecration is always an important moment, of course; and at this Mass is marked by the banners to the sides of the altars bowing, as well as the bells ringing; for some reason I always find that a moving spectacle. 

Distribution of communion to so large a gathering (I think between 8,000 - 10,000 this year) could be problematic; but not so. Large numbers of priests, each accompanied by a server carrying an communion plate, and another carrying a large umbrella as an ombrellino, distribute communion to the pilgrims, who kneel in the dust and receive reverently on the tongue. It can be done, where there's a will...

And after Mass, we had a lunch break, and then three more marches to the campsite; on this second day we had covered 27 miles, but again the mild weather had made it very much less arduous than in some previous years.  We arrived singing loudly, as before, and then collected luggage, pitched tents and had some soup for supper.

The campsite is in an old quarry at Gas.  Here there is another altar, and adoration continues throughout the night (indeed I was awoken at 4.00 am by the Tantum Ergo, followed by the Divine Praises in French...). But for myself, I just made a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament before retiring for the night: I find that sleep is very important (if possible) if I am to maintain that cheerful demeanour and high energy level that seems a requirement of the Chef de Chapitre role. It was another cold night, but not quite as cold as the previous one; and until the early morning Benediction, I slept well.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Chartres 2016 (1)

So, another year, another pilgrimage to Chartres...

I have written about this so many times in previous years, that it is hard to know what to say without repeating myself endlessly (see the tag Chartres for previous accounts).

One difference this year was that I went alone; none of the children were free to come with me, for various reasons.  So I travelled down to London alone the night before, and arrived very late, due to an incident on the line, and stopped at a B&B in Victoria.  

We start the pilgrimage with Mass at 7.00 am in the Cathedral Crypt, which was surprisingly empty at 7.00 am. I wondered if I had got it wrong, but Fr George Roth was there to say the Mass - it was only the congregation who were lacking. They all piled in a minute or two later as Mass was starting: I never did find out why.

The Mass, of course, was in the traditional Roman Rite (the Extraordinary Form, as we now call it), and was very prayerful. The other priests on the pilgrimage also said their Masses at the same time in other chapels in the crypt. (This was the only photo I took on the whole trip. Those wanting pictures should look at the LMS Facebook page, or the official pilgrimage site.)

Then we all got on the coach, and it was off to Dover to catch the ferry. Avid readers will remember that a couple of years ago, my eldest daughter had left her passport behind. This year, it was one of the Readings who could not find his passport, so cancelled - he clearly hadn't heard how we had smuggled Ant over the border... Rumour has it that Fr Roth did not have his passport with him, either, but we pass lightly over that.

The ferry crossing was pleasant enough, with fish and chips for lunch (it being Friday) and we got to our hotel outside Paris without further ado, with a few hymns and a rosary or two. There we went to an Italian restaurant just around the corner (why, I don't know: go to Paris and eat pizzas....) but it was pleasant enough, and the company convivial.

The next morning we started the tougher part of the pilgrimage: up at the time my children normally go to bed, so as to have breakfast at 5.00, get on the coach by 5.30 and get to Notre Dame for 6.00 am. There we met the indefatigable and inimitable Fr Mark Withoos, the chaplain of our chapter, who had flown in from Rome (he is Cardinal Pell's private secretary, and had been granted an exeat on condition that he didn't wreck himself as he did last time he came...)

Then we had High Mass in the Cathedral, which is always a wonderful and moving celebration, and finally set off on the long march out of Paris; onto the rive gauche, past the Luxembourg gardens, and out through the suburbs. This first march is one of the longest, and often one of the toughest: two and a half hours of city walking, until we get to the park in the suburb of Plessis-Robinson, some 6 1/2 miles from Notre Dame. The apples we are always treated to at this park are provided by the local municipality as a gesture of welcome.  The official website for the pilgrimage carries a wonderful sentence in English (almost) on this subject:
An apple a day keep the pelgrin alive ! 
During the marches, we sang hymns (Faith of our Fathers, to start with, and then a variety of others) said prayers (starting, as each day, with a morning offering) and sang the rosary (in decades variously in Latin, French and English). We also have a meditation, normally read by one of the priests marching with us (as well as Fr Withoos, we were looked after by Fr Roth and Fr Verier, who was ordained almost a year ago into the FSSP). We also have plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves, and this Catholic conviviality is an important part of the pilgrimage. Indeed, a few marriages have resulted, over the years...

The English were marching in two chapters, one under the banner of Our Lady of Walsingham (until the banner pole snapped) and the other, the youth chapter of which I am titular Chef de Chapitre, under the patronage (but not banner, as it too had broken) of St Alban.

This year the weather was very kind to us; pleasantly mild, which was perfect walking weather. The rest of the day followed the same pattern: march for ages, rest for minutes, march for more ages... until we got to the campsite at Choisel, somewhere around  8 o'clock. By this time we have been up for about 16 hours, and marching for 10 of them, covering a fraction less than 25 miles.  So we always make a point of singing lustily as we arrive, to show that we Brits are nothing daunted by such a trivial stroll. This year was no exception, and we made a decent noise as we arrived.

Then bags were retrieved (they travel by lorry, mercifully), tents pitched, soup and rolls eaten, and the sensible ones among us retired for the night as soon as possible, putting in our earplugs, against the carousing of the French Scouts...

Monday 9 May 2016

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

Yesterday we had the privilege of welcoming our bishop, +Michael Campbell, at the start of the Extraordinary Form Mass. By welcome, of course, I mean we sang Ecce Sacerdos Magnus.

He was there on a parish visitation, and gave us a brief address before Mass. In it he spoke very simply and movingly about the importance of our attachment to the traditional liturgy of the Church; about its particular power, including the power of chant, to turn one's heart and mind to God. And he exhorted us to continue to worship in this way, not worried by the small numbers who attend this Mass.

Naturally, priest and people are heartened by his understanding and support. Ad multos annos!