Monday, February 2, 2009

Candlemas at Carmel

The day dawned cloudy and drizzly, thanks be - and has been cool and wet and clouded over all day long, amen!  Goodbye hot weather.

It was still early when I headed up to Carmel, remembering to bring candles to be blessed, and after some prayer went down to the large parlour, with about twenty other congregants, who were handed little candles which were then lit.  Next, how splendid, what a privilege to see what so few do: the screen drawn back, and the joyful nuns arranged in two rows ready to process, attired in choir capes over their habits, all wimpled and veiled (but for the postulant sister, next to the white-veiled novice in the front), and all carrying tall lighted candles in one hand, and the music they were to sing in the other.  Fr Kene came in, the sisters sang a hymn, then he began the rite, blessed the candles (forgetting to asperse them, the holy water bucket being behind him - I dabbed mine with holy water later), and had us form our two processions - the nuns within the enclosure, and we without, but both singing "Hail to the Lord Who comes"...

Hail to the Lord who comes,
Comes to his temple gate,
Not with his angel hosts,
Not in his kingly state;

But borne upon the throne
Of Mary's gentle breast;
Thus to his Father's house
He comes a humble guest.

The world's true light draws near
All darkness to dispel,
The flame of faith is lit
And dies the power of hell.

Our bodies and our souls
Are temples now for him,
For we are born of grace-
God lights our souls within.

O Light of all the earth!
We light our lives with thee;
The chains of darkness gone
All sons of God are free.

Oddly, after both processions reached their destination in the chapel, Mass continued as per the Novus Ordo rubrics with the Gloria - but which was not sung as Fr expected, but said!  Yet the good sisters did later sing the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in plainchant, together with chanting in English the psalm, the Memorial Acclamation, the Amen, the Lord's Prayer, its Doxology, the Communion verse and a final hymn; they seem to have set strict rules for progressive solemnity (such as which days exactly on which to sing the Gloria) that have curious consequences: in this case, bathos.

Fr Kene, again proving himself much superior to the local Tasmanian clergy, preached a good sermon, amongst other things reminding us that Candlemas is called Hypapante or Encounter by the Greeks, and praying in conclusion that one day, at the hour of our death, Our Lady may receive us in her arms, and present us to the eternal Father.

Just before the procession, I had been introduced by the nice lady I'd met on Sunday to her husband (apparently one of the adherents of the Traditional Anglican Communion - since it's already online, here's a link to his story) and to the local T.A.C. bishop, dressed soberly with a large pectoral cross, who came with them to Mass!  I noticed later that both men crossed themselves at the conclusion of the Creed and Sanctus, and at the Elevation, and of course abstained from communion.  After the liturgy, I had a short conversation with "the Rt Rev David Robarts, Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Australia and Bishop of the Southern Apostolic District" - he seemed a fine fellow and I hope to see more of him.

Of course, he was unable to give me any details of the T.A.C.'s ongoing negotiations with Rome regarding their return to Catholic unity, but seemed most positive, despite observing that these are difficult times for Christians in the West, and that whether among the generality of Catholics after Vatican II, or among the Anglicans he served as a priest for many years prior to his withdrawal from them into the T.A.C. and his subsequent elevation, the great lack is that of an awareness of transcendence, of the idea of the Holy.  (Certainly at Carmel one feels some awareness of the mystery of the Divine, and finds a well-ordered liturgy: from a slightly different I wonder what were his feelings as he attended the Mass being celebrated by a Nigerian priest, on loan to this dying Archdiocese.)

Later on, at work, I reflected how strange it was to have had a window into Carmel this morning, to have processed with candles, to have offered and received the Mystic Sacrifice - who of my colleagues would comprehend it? - and moreover to have met the local T.A.C. bishop and discussed varied matters with him.  Upon arriving home I found that another friend - Fraser Pearce - had sent me two books: the Carmelite Proper for the modern Divine Office, and a Carmelite Ritual of 1952.  An interesting day.


Anonymous said...

Ah, David Robarts! He's the former Dean of Perth. There's a great story of how, when Carnley wanted to ordain priestesses, Robarts told him "fine, you may do it, but not in my cathedral." So the story/myth goes, anyway. I'd forgotten he'd been made a bishop of the TAC and sent to Tassie.


Joshua said...

I discovered (when I googled his name) that he has the Order of Australia Medal (OAM), and that he is the former chairman of Forward in Faith Australia, which I understand to be an Anglican organization struggling against liberalism in that denomination, and getting a pretty rough treatment for doing so at the hands of the powers that be.