Not according to Fortescue!
We had a great Mass of the Epiphany yesterday, which started as a Sung Mass and segued into a High Mass. I know that is not supposed to happen, but our Deacon of the Mass, Fr Rick Robyn, was trapped in a train which was stuck in a tunnel one stop from Philadelphia because of a power outage. So I processed to the Crib alone (well, with only twelve choir members and five servers) and blessed the gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the chalk for writing the 20+G+M+B+14 over the lintel of our houses. (“The Christian Mezzuzah” I’ve heard it called). On the way back, I saw that Fr Robyn had arrived, and he and the Subdeacon were waiting in the Sacristy off the High Altar, and, as I approached the altar out they came just as though it was planned. A Bishop who was present at the Mass said to me afterwards “They’ll be doing that at the Basilica next week!” The rest of the Mass (a glorious setting by Rheinberger) was splendid, as was the party in the Rectory afterwards (to which about 100 came). Now I have a huge ham bone to form the basis of a pot of lentil soup.
Our little hitch at the beginning of Mass reminded me of several other times when things have not gone smoothly.
Once, I was instituting a new Chaplain of Christ Church, Amsterdam, whose churchmanship is decidedly Evangelical. However, I had to celebrate the Holy Communion, and was determined to show how easily (and willingly) an Anglo-Catholic Vicar-General could adapt himself. The first (minor) shock came when at the Offertory I was presented with a huge pile of slices of ordinary white bread. However, I got on with the consecration without worrying too much about where all the crumbs would be going. All went well till I had to give out Communion: I thought I was doing very well, breaking off just little bits, since there was a packed church, and as I came to the end, I had gauged it nicely and was on the last slice. “That’ll show them” I thought, and then nemesis struck – the entire gallery, which I had forgotten, rose to its collective feet and began to come downstairs to Communion. How I longed for a large Tabernacle stuffed with hosts! I stopped the organist and said to the congregation “Unlike at Cana of Galilee (soothe them with Scripture) we have plenty of wine, but now we have no bread”. Up rose a lady in the pews pulling another loaf of sliced bread from her shopping bag, which she brought forward to subdued cheers. I said: “I’ll just bless this right now”, reconsecrated, and communicated the gallery folk as though this kind of thing happened every day.
Then there was the time I represented the Archbishop of Canterbury at a Mass to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Church of Norway. It was held on the top of a mountain four hours by boat north of Bergen. All the Norwegian Bishops were there and about 60 or 70 priests. The first intimation that this was not going to be an ordinary Mass was when the army buses which took the priests to the top of the mountain dropped us by a large marquee where we were to vest. It seemed to have been built on a swamp and we soon found ourselves sinking in the semi frozen ground. Then soldiers came round with huge plastic cylinders for us to put on before the albs “as there is quite a wind on the mountain”. We squelched our way to the site of the altar, over which some demented Irish monks had hauled their boat to bring the faith to Norway. Why they thought the Norwegians would be on the top of a mountain is another question! The King of Norway flew in in a nice warm helicopter and the Mass began. At one stage I was so cold that I thought I was going to be the first martyr to the Ecumenical Movement. At the Kiss of Peace, I was saved by a young man in national dress from the Diocese of Bergen who suggested I follow him and a couple of his friends behind an outcropping of rock (the crowd was vast, so no one noticed or cared if a couple of concelebrants wandered off). He produced a flask of Norwegian aquavit from his pocket which four of us finished off. This got me through the rest of the Mass without frostbite. I gave my new friend dinner in our warm hotel and, as you see, lived to tell the tale – thus saving the C of E General Synod a debate on whether I should be added to the calendar as a martyr.
Another irregular moment was when I went to the celebration of the thousandth anniversary of a French Cathedral, invited by the local Archbishop, because we had a little Anglican congregation which used a chapel in the Cathedral for an English Mass every Sunday. I arrived in cassock, carrying a cotta and stole, but when the Archbishop saw me he said: “But, Father, you will surely concelebrate with me”. Well, I told him the C of E had no objections to this, but what about his own Church and its rules. I said “What about the Pope?”. He just gave one of those expressive Gallic shrugs and said “Oh, ze Pope – ‘e live a long way away”! So we concelebrated.
So last night’s hybrid Mass was not that unusual.