Like the first cuckoo of summer, I wait at this time of year for the first person to say "Coming up to your busy time, eh, Father?" A black taxi driver on Tuesday was this year's winner. (In the unlikely event of his reading the Catholic Herald this week, he could now say "I 'ad that distinguished Catholic commentator in the back of my cab once.")
Actually the first three weeks of December are usually quite busy but Christmas itself is blissfully quiet in the parish. All I have to do is the things that happen in the Church because the end of term marks the end of most other activities.
This week, on Monday, I was at West Malling for the meeting of Deans and Bishops of the Archdiocese of Southwark to discuss the Towards a Vision process. The Vicar General, Mgr Richard Moth, took some photos for the Diocesan Website so I judged that it would be all right for me to take one or two.
You can see in the picture Fr Stephen Langridge. I am not very good at keeping up with diocesan gossip so it was a pleasant surprise for me to find out that the Archbishop has appointed him to be the new Dean of the Balham Deanery. Fr Langridge is also the vocations director for the Archdiocese.
On Tuesday, I was Deacon at a celebration in honour of the English College martyrs, followed by an excellent lunch. Fr Charles Briggs reminded me that the Deacon does more genuflecting than anyone else. Since we had a run-through beforehand, my quadriceps ended up getting quite a workout and have only just stopped aching.
Tuesday evening saw the meeting of the executive council of the Guild of Ransom followed by a meal at the Oriental Club. On Wednesday, I joined a coachload of people from the parish, organised by the Union of Catholic Mothers for a Christmas lunch at Aylesford. Frankly by the end of that, I had eaten about as much in two days as I normally do in a fortnight but it was a good occasion for the parish and a chance for people to visit the shrine. The lunch was in the Pilgrims' Hall:
After lunch, I paid a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in the relic chapel, and said a prayer at the relic of St Simon Stock. Below is a picture of the chapel: the tower-like structure is the reliquary which contains his skull. The reliquary is intended to recall the caves on Mount Carmel, the original home of the Carmelite hermits before they had to flee to England under threat from the Saracens.
Here is a close-up of part of the reliquary:
You can see the first line of the Carmelite hymn which is sung every Saturday evening at Aylesford after Compline and the seasonal Marian anthem. The text runs:
Flos Carmeli vitis florigera
splendor caeli virgo puerpera
Mater mitis et viri nescia
Carmelitis da privilegia
You can see some further verses (which I only just found out about) and translation at Preces Latinae: Flos Carmeli. Apparently, the hymn was used as the sequence for Masses of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock in the old Carmelite Rite.
That evening in London, there was a reception for priests given by the Catholic Herald. It was good to meet some of the people that I have only known via telephone and email. The paper was available, hot off the press, with extensive coverage of the Holy Father's new encyclical.
This afternoon I was in London again for a theological study group. They asked me to celebrate a Low Mass in the Classical Roman Rite at St James's, Spanish Place. We were discussing a paper on sacramental causality which raised some interesting questions regarding the nature of the liturgy. We finished the evening with sung Compline - something I rarely get to participate in so also a joy.
After all that, I'll be in the parish all day tomorrow, thank goodness! After the morning Mass, some time will have to be spent catching up on the post and email before I go to hear confessions in a local secondary school. Later in the afternoon, we have a holy hour for children, followed in the evening by a Mass during which several new brothers will be admitted to the order of the Knights of St Columba.
Next week is pretty full, too. After that, it's my quiet time, actually.