The northern region of the Netherlands is a beautiful part of the world. Canals, pastures stretching as far as the eye can see, windmills, and lovely houses made for a restful and rejuvenating couple of days.
The participants in the Boot Camp were mainly young graduates in various disciplines: they wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith. My task was to talk about the sacraments in general and the Eucharist in particular. I took along the notes that I use at the seminary and tried to give an overview of these topics, looking in some detail at questions such as validity and fruitfulness, the nature of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Tridentine decrees on transubstantiation. I was not sure beforehand what level to work at and so I was glad that for those who took part, I had to hand my full notes with quotations from the Fathers and the magisterial documents.
The programme for each day was quite ambitious. The participants were camping locally in tents and walked the half mile to the village for breakfast and other meals, and for offices sung by Brother Hugo in the chapel. They prepared their own food in the village Hall and must have walked quite a number of miles to and fro during the course of the week.
Each night, there was a time of adoration after Compline. For this, the Blessed Sacrament was carried from the village solemnly with torches, thurible and bell - both there and back. As a priest, I was asked to fulfil this office and to give Benediction at the end of the period of adoration. It was a wonderful experience to carry Our Lord so solemnly along the roads and tracks, across the canal, into the chapel tent and back again. (Given the darkness of the roads and tracks, the torches fulfilled their practical, as well as their symbolic purpose.) There was no doubting the young people's love for the Lord in his Eucharistic presence. Although I have virtually no Dutch, I was moved by Brother Hugo's leading the litanies in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the reverence which was shown.
Another welcome duty as a visiting priest was to celebrate Mass. The day before I came, two priests from the Fraternity of St Peter in Amsterdam spoke about the usus antiquior and I was asked to celebrate Mass in this form of the Roman Rite (most of the participants being readers of my blog and knowing that I would not object to this request!) Here is the chapel tent set up for the 8am Mass, open towards the morning sun:
The altar was hung with fine quality damask, with gold braid decoration. Everything was as dignified as could be for the celebration of the sacred Liturgy. In the front of the altar is a niche containing a piece from the sarcophagus of St Bruno (one of the many relics in the possession of Brother Hugo) and a relic cloth was placed on the altar with a first class relic.
I had expected that I would be celebrating Low Mass but the young people had prepared with Brother Hugo all the texts from the Graduale Romanum, and Mass IV so that we could celebrate a Missa Cantata on each of the two days I was there. It was not possible in the circumstances to have the more solemn form of the Missa Cantata but my server, David, was very competent and we managed to negotiate our way around the groundsheet and the carpet that had been sacrificed to lay in front of the altar.
It was really most impressive that the quite challenging Gregorian Chant for the two days was sung with such enthusiasm by a choir with little experience of the usus antiquior. As ever in such cases, they were modest and apologised afterwards for the fact that they made occasional mistakes. Really - they should not be so hard on themselves!
The atmosphere at the Boot Camp was full of fun. I was asked to ride a bicycle in my cassock for a photo (perhaps that will appear somewhere soon!), there was much improptu singing (especially from Anna) and I sang "The British Grenadier" as my contribution while lunch was being prepared. I was also introduced into the mysteries of the pronunciation of Dutch diphthongs by being encouraged to read the local Catholic paper out loud while being carefully coached (especially by Livi).
The Church in the Netherlands is fortunate indeed to have this gallant band of young adults ready to sleep out in damp tents for a week, staying up late to adore Our Lord, getting up early to praise Him, and scribbling diligently in notebooks while learning more about their faith. I was so glad that I agreed to go and help out, even for a couple of days, and I shall be watching with interest to see the growth of the Church in that lovely country. In the Netherlands too, The Church is alive! The Church is young!