Thursday, 22 August 2013

Shrine of St. Ferdinand

This post was written significantly late, months after the actual event, due to an interruption in writing resulting from a car accident.  Therefore, the quality and accuracy of details and quotations, although given to the best of my abilities, may be reduced.

One never knows when a new serving opportunity will suddenly present itself!  As I set at my desk late Tuesday morning, working on the handout for an upcoming Missa Cantata at the Shrine of St. Joseph, my phone decided to ring.  Since normally when my phone rings it means that someone is calling me, I looked, and found it to be a priest whom I have met a handful of times in the past.  "Hello Steven.  I know you know a lot about the rubrics of the Mass, so perhaps you will be able to help.  On Thursday evening we will be having a Solemn First Mass of a newly ordained priest at the Old St. Ferdinand Shrine,  but the deacon and subdeacon have never served a First Mass before, the archpriest is unsure of his role, and the servers have never served a Latin Mass before.  Do you think you could meet us tomorrow for training?"  A pretty standard request, right?

Of course, being quite excited I agreed, and immediately got to work preparing myself.  The first step, of course, is something which anyone in such a position would do: send a distress signal to St. Francis de Sales Oratory requesting immediate help!  Next, abandoning my work on the handout, I devoted myself to reading and committing to memory Fr. Fortescue's Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, well into the night, with any questions I had being directed towards the ever-gracious sacristan at the Oratory (who, being my only reader, must be given flattery!)

For convenience, we met for training at the Oratory of Ss. Gregory and Augustine, which is closer for most of those involved than the Shrine.  An altar is an altar, right?  Well, kinda, but the smaller sanctuary with only one altar step certainly affected the training.  As we waited for all of the clergy to arrive, we again did what any normal people would do: stand in the vestibule chatting, with one of the priests donning an Optimus Prime helmet and light sabre which just happened to be sitting around.  Perfectly normal!

Once the training finally began it was pretty straight forward, with a well-trained priest instructing the major clergy and me the servers, with considerable overlap . . . which itself is the most striking part.  When a question arose (or even when one didn't), the assisting priest would turn to me for concurrence or my opinion, before continuing.  As a layman, to be in a position of instruction over clergy, and looked upon by the same as a competent authority over the liturgy, is quite an amazing experience!

At the end of training, the priests and I went to lunch, chatting of course about many liturgical topics, including a conversation about the intrigue over a large batch of liturgical emails I had sent earlier that year, for a special series of Masses I arranged (but have not written about . . . yet.  Someday, perhaps!)  Then, I hurried off to an unrelated meeting with the auxiliary bishop of St. Louis.  (All in a day's work, right?)

Identifying at the training what items would be necessary to bring along for the Mass, on Thursday I set to work arranging for them.  We needed altar cards and intonation cards for the chants, so I obtained my standard golden, jewel-encrusted set from the museum (because everyone has access to such items, right?) and set to work creating intonation cards, which I had printed on heavy cardstock.  These were quickly put to use, replacing the "basic" ones which had been made already by someone else.

Arriving at the church, my first destination (after saying a few prayers, of course) naturally was the sacristy, where all of the servers and clergy were gathering.  I had no function in the Mass itself, yet I was hoping to beg my way into sitting in choir.  In the sacristy I noticed the servers hanging their vestments on free-standing candelabra, so I hung my vestment bag along with them.  Always one to make a good first impression, of course, my bag off-balanced it, and the two-hundred-year-old candelabrum toppled over straight into a glass cabinet housing historical vestments, losing its branches in the process.  Amazingly the glass did not break, so we servers quickly reassembled the candelabrum and then acted as if nothing had ever happened.  Phew.

When the Master of Ceremonies for the Mass arrived (who had not been at the training), I sought him out for begging.  "Would it be okay if I sat in choir with the clergy for the Mass?" I asked, expecting to be shot down.  "No!" he shot back, but then clarified, "I need you to be my second M.C.!"  Suddenly revitalised, we now set to work discussing rubrics between each other and dividing our tasks, in a way quite similar to the previous day.  He would have charge over the major clergy, and I would have charge over the archpriest, servers, and choir.  Since the archpriest's bench would be in the normal M.C.'s spot the M.C. would have to stand across from him, and my spot as "second M.C." would be wedged between the sedilia, bench, and the wall, perfectly accessible through a tiny gap between them all.

Now, since things could not, of course, remain this simple, my phone then decided to ring again as we are preparing for Mass, and this time it was the chaplain of St. Mary of Victories Chapel, who himself was preparing for his own special Missa Cantata at the Chapel of the Eternal Father.  Originally I was supposed to have served this Mass, but requested leave to assist with the Missa Solemnis instead, given its complexity (and my own desire).  He was fine with that, but as they were setting up they ran into their own issues, and called me for help.  Thus, with my mind perfectly free from other distractions and in the ideal state for conjuring up old, obscure memories, the question was posed: "Last time we had Mass here there was a book on their bookshelf which you said had the English readings for the Mass in it.  Do you remember what it was?" " . . . Umm . . . "  So, after a few minutes of intensive thinking and guessing, I had to admit my ignorance and, feeling bad, got back to my preparations.

The Mass finally beginning at 19:00, we processed around the church and in through the main doors, to the ringing of the tower bell.  We had no organist (since the only one available happened to be second M.C.), but had a schola made up entirely of clergy who stood around a music stand in the centre of the aisle.  The liturgical choir went to their pews, and the rest of us up to the (rather crowded) sanctuary, and, having no better place to go, I simply kneeled to the left of the clergy for the prayers.  Mass flowed reasonably well from here, with the major clergy making only minor mistakes.  Although I had charge of the minor clergy, I still strayed occasionally over to correct the major clergy when necessary, but mostly focused on the archpriest and extra clergy.  What quickly became evident, however, was how little of the instructions from the previous day had been retained by the choir.  Therefore, most of my attention was given to directing them, in the pews, from the sanctuary, as to when to sit and stand.  Of the choir only one priest knew the proper rubrics, but as a priest he sat behind the rest and therefore was unseen by them.  Alas.

Now for some interpretation of what "having charge over" a cleric can mean.  As the clergy sat for the Gradual, being in my cramped corner, I had a wonderful view of the archpriest, enough so that I noticed a mosquito on his neck, unbeknownst to him.  Thus began Operation "Dispel the Mosquito Without Distracting the Archpriest, Other Clergy, or Faithful (of Which There Were Very Few)", otherwise known as Operation DMWDAOCF(WTWVF), which ultimately was successful, albeit far too late to spare the archpriest.

(Note, there are probably many more details of the actual Mass which I have forgotten -- see note at the top -- but by now I am amazed that you are still following along!)

Mass having ended, we took some photos, cleaned up the church, and then went to the hall for refreshments.  At the end as the others left, the priests of the Shrine and I went back to the church to finish cleaning, and along the way the pastor made a very striking comment: "Can you believe the servers were hanging their vestments on the two-hundred-year-old candlebra?  What barbarians!"  To which all I could say was, "Oh yes, how barbaric . . . ," along with an awkward chuckle.

Thus, the church count now stands at 51. 

Datum S. Ludovici, die XXIX mensis Iulii, in festo S. Marthae Virginis, anno MMXIV.

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