First, an update on the 5th (still in Australia), then yester-day the 6th, my first in New Zealand:
Wednesday 5th January: feria
Not the Vigil of the Epiphany, alas! Lauds, then Low Mass, then Prime coram sanctissimo (for they have Exposition at Our Lady's altar after Mass) at St Aloysius… breakfast back at the apartment, then Terce before departing for a day-trip to the upper Yarra Valley. We drove to Warburton (Sext, and lunch), then, via Healesville, to Tarrawarra Abbey, where I visited my friend Br Luke. It is nigh on six years since he joined the Abbey, and in fact next week he will renew his vows for a year, before, God willing, taking his solemn vows on the 12th of January 2012 (which, according to the modern Martyrology, and I suspect the Cistercian Calendar, is the feast of St Benedict Biscop, Abbot). It has been three years since I last visited him, and seven years since I last made a retreat at the Abbey. The community – founded by Irish Cistercians of the Strict Observance in 1954 – numbers but sixteen; he is at present the only brother in formation. Before leaving the Abbey, I paid a visit to the Abbey Church, said None, Kyrie and Pater for Br Luke, and a Salve in honour of Our Lady of Tarrawarra (a rather mannish painting of whom hangs at the west end of the choir).
We drove back via Warrandyte. For dinner: Vietnamese, I think… which turned out to be delicious; the Soc Trang style mini-pancakes and pork “casserole” (or hot-pot rather) were excellent.
To-morrow: off to New Zealand! Alas, I must needs arise at six o’clock in order to get to the airport in time for my flight. Why is it that I always get up earlier on holidays than on work days? How perverse!
Thursday 6th January: Epiphany of the Lord
Happy Theophany! Three wonders we celebrate this day: the Adoration of the Magi, those first-fruits of the Gentiles, presaging the conversion of the whole world to Christ, led unto Him by the agency of a marvellous star, intimating that the true philosophy raises men’s eyes from nature to nature’s God; the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (which is the main focus of this feast in the East, but which is rather contemplated in first place on the Octave Day of the Epiphany in the West); and the Miracle at Cana (which, in the Traditional Roman liturgy, is more strictly focussed on in the Mass of the first Sunday after the Octave of the Epiphany).
On my way over to New Zealand, I had the words and music of that great carol, “We three kings of Orient are,” playing as it were in my mind. I imagined the scene somewhat as depicted for one of the Medici dukes by one of the masterly painters of old, whose name escapes me: a caravan of gloriously caparisoned camels approacheth, bearing Eastern lords richly drest, one European or Caucasian, one African or Ethiopian, and one Asian or Chinese (yes, I know they were Magi, and therefore “Persians”, but to see them thus bespeaks the whole family of mankind)… then my mind tipped over into whimsy, recalling what Bp Jarrett once told me of an Anglo-Catholic church in England, whose structure and liturgy was so grand that “one wouldn’t have been surprised to see the sacred ministers approaching the altar on elephants!” How wide an aisle would be needed for three Indian elephants to walk abreast, and how expansive a cope for the deacon-atop-elephant and subdeacon-atop-elephant to hold each edge thereof for the celebrant-atop-elephant as he aspersed the people with holy water before Mass…
I should mention that I nearly missed my flight (though given my thoughts, I could well have just floated off into the sky in a daze), since I managed to misread a crucial sign, sending the car over the Westgate Bridge toward Geelong rather than the Bolte Bridge toward Tullamarine Airport – thank God indeed that it proved possible to turn off at the far end, recross the bridge, find the right way and still get checked-in on time. In any case, the flight was delayed.
I was pleased that the route of the flight took us over Wilson’s Promontory, then down parallel to the islands in eastern Bass Strait that mark the chain of hills submerged since the last Ice Age, finally turning away toward New Zealand when only a short way east of southern Flinders Island, with the mountains of the mainland of Tasmania in view on the horizon. To my slight disappointment, thick cloud covered N.Z. – then again, how true to its name Aotearoa, “Land of the Long White Cloud.” It was a goodly sight, the verdant landscape, a mixture of rich farmland and great high hills or rather glacier-carved mountains, when at last we broke through the cloud decks not far short of Queenstown, just before we landed. Truly, each was “an high hill, as the hill of Bashan” (Ps 68(67):15b, P.B.V.).
After checking in at my hotel, I did as pledged and drank to the health of N.Z. a “handle” of beer (a good dark porter) at Speight’s Alehouse – apparently a “handle” is the local term for a pint, it being served in a beer mug with, well, let the reader understand. But before that, I did pay a visit to the Master of this and all places, returning to the local Catholic church of St Joseph.
Down on the waterfront, I admired the clear waters of Lake Wakatipu, ducks idly bobbing in the crystal-clear water by the wharf in the foreground with great mountains wreathed in mist and cloud in the background, and had some delicacies at Patagonia Chocolates: I went there last time, and am a creature of habit. The proprietors seem to have a Spanish background: the rich, dark caramel was definitely dulce con leche, if that is the right term, and the very name alfajor employed for caramel sandwiched between biscuits, then dipt in dark chocolate, speaks for itself.
I had arranged beforehand to take the gondola ride up to the Skyline establishment, with a stunning view overlooking Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, atop Bob’s Peak: have I previously blogged about my fear of heights? The 450 metre vertical ascent was rather… confronting, especially toward the top, as the gondola car began to swing, the ascent slowed to a crawl, and the trees previously to either side receded below, providing a very broad view in all directions. My legs began to get that jellified feeling. Vertigo is an embarrassing complaint for a bloke. The descent (prudently facing inward, having enjoyed the heady view quite sufficiently) proved much easier: my unintentional desensitization programme continues!