Saturday, July 09, 2011


This week I have been on retreat in Berkshire. I mentioned it before here. It was led by Fr de Malleray of the FSSP and there were fourteen of us altogether. Sadly I had to leave a day early to come back for a wedding in the parish. On the other hand I arrived the night before the retreat started to save a rush on Monday trying to get to Cold Ash, near Newbury from Newcastle for a 2pm start. So I was grateful for Fr de Malleray`s offer of staying a night at the FSSP house in Reading which I was looking forward to seeing anyway.

When I arrived I was invited in for tea. Around the table apart from Father himself (who is French) there was Christopher who has just completed his first year at the FSSP seminary in the USA and is Polish, Fr Grega, a young French Canadian priest who joined the FSSP in January from his diocese and an American FSSP seminarian whose name sadly escapes me. Not only was I the only British person I was the oldest by more than ten years. This was a strange experience as belonging to the diocesan priesthood I`m used to being part of a structure which is top heavy age-wise. I had a tour of the house and was able to see the wonderful conversion job that has been done into making it a religious house complete with a (quite small) chapel. After dinner and clearing up the evening ended with Compline.

Next morning we went to the local parish church of St William of York for Mass. I was interested to see it having seen pictures on the internet. The altar looked splendid with its gradines and `big six` but all this has to be removed a few times each week so that the parish can have the OF Mass there too. The FSSP have still to acquire a church of their own in the UK. Surely that will happen soon given that they have about five native priests (none of whom at present work in the UK) about the same number in formation and four new seminarians starting this year. All this is quite remarkable when you consider that this is for an institute which only has this small house in Reading as a presence in England ( as well as a somewhat larger house in Edinburgh).

The next day we drove to Cold Ash where lunch was arranged for 12 noon for the retreat participants so that we might have a chance to socialise before beginning the silent retreat. Again I was the senior priest by over ten years and as such was invited to say grace. There were about eight of us at lunch eventually and the arrival of Fr Leworthy of the FSSP at last meant I wasn`t the only priest in his 50`s! The rest of the fathers were waiting at Cold Ash pastoral centre when we arrived.

The theme of the retreat was the prayers of the Roman missal so Fr de Malleray took us through the Mass giving a commentary on the spiritual significance of the prayers and rituals of the Extraordinary Form. All I can say was that I had heard nothing like this in my spiritual formation at Ushaw. (John Saward may have taught these things but I onnly had one brief course with him.) Hearing Father speak, the logic of the traditional Mass was made clear and its spiritual purpose revealed. There are lots of phrases from the retreat buzzing round my head as I write. There were things which I might have missed if I had read them in a book such as: the primary purpose of the Mass is the glory of God. I can be quite certain no-one ever told me that at Ushaw. Father drew our attention to this as the word `glory` kept appearing. It applies to the reading of the Gospel whose prime purpose is not instruction but the glory of God (which is why the response of the people or server is `Gloria tibi Domine`). Father also spoke of how today Catholics feel insulted if the priest says Mass `with his back to the people` as they feel they are excluded somehow but they have failed to realise that they are not the focus of the Mass but God and that the priest`s job is to lead them to God. I can`t give a synopsis of the whole retreat here but this gives a small taste. I also can`t give a synopsis because of the eight talks I only heard five as I had to leave a day early to come back for a wedding in the parish on Friday. There was a Holy Hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament each day and readings at all the meals. I particularly enjoyed those from Archbishop Dolan`s book `Priests for the third millenium`.

We had four altars in the rather attractive and largely unspoiled 19th century chapel so the first slot for saying Mass was the 5.40am! I`m afraid I don`t operate very well on ess that eight hours sleep so I took at 7.10am slot each morning which meant being asleep by 10pm. It was lovely to walk into the chapel each morning and see all the altars in use.

At times I must admit the retreat was hard going but now I`m back it all seems wonderful and I`d look forward to another. (This is quite like the experience of the Chartres pilgrimage.) It was a long way from the north but I was surprised some of those I know from nearer cities and towns never seem to come to these FSSP events for priests. It would be good to see more priests come next time.

So thank you again Fr de Malleray and thank God for the FSSP.


Fr Francis Wadsworth said...

Yes I agree it was an excellent retreat. Although I never had the misfortune to be sen to Ushaw I can concur that I too was never taught about the Mass being for the glory of God above all else. I seem to remember we did a lot about the Mass being a family meal and an extension of Jewish table fellowship etc etc.. We certainly never did any thing on Mass Offerings and applying the merits of Christ on the Cross to individual souls.
I learnt more about the Mass on retreat than i ever learnt in six years of seminary. It is a sad reflection on our seminary systems.
Thank God for the FSSP.

vetusta ecclesia said...

I am a layman in his late 60s and I attended Fr de Melleray's retreat in March on the Prayers of the Mass. I appreciated it greatly but knew most of what he said.I am only gradually realising what an excellent grounding I had at home and at school. The fact that seminarians at Ushaw were not taught what I learned in my teens is a scandal.

M. FAGAN said...

Could I refer you to the Penny Catechism Answer No. 279.
The Sacrifice of the Mass is offered for four ends: first, to give supreme honour and glory to God; secondly, to thank him for all his benefits; thirdly, to satisfy God for our sins and to obtain the grace of repentance; and fourthly to obtain all other graces and blessings through Jesus Christ.
This was drilled into me and every other pupil in Catholic Primary Schools before Vatican 2. If Ushaw was incapable of teaching it to seminarians perhaps it is as well it has closed.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Thank you M FAGAN. I am sufficently aged to have had rigorous catechism classes in my first year at grammar school. I can`t remember using it at primary school. I`m sure we got up to question 279. However while I think the catechism is a very good thing unlike many others the answers haven`t stayed lodged in my memory. However even if they had I suspect this would not have made a great impression on me until I heard it explained. Fr de Malleray`s explanation certainly gave me food for thought and I¬m grateful for that.

Nobody said...

I am a nobody as far as Mass goes but I am very surprised that people don't even know, or haven't had it explained, why a priest faces the same way as them in a Mass. I think that would be the least of my troubles. The rest of all the Mass is a much greater and more difficult thing to understand yet they gaily go through it all without question, troubling only about the priest's back!

Anonymous said...

I have only just found this Father and I must thank you for cutting your retreat short, as you really made our wedding day special. You opened my eyes to the possibility of following the Catholic faith, which I would not have otherwise considered. Thank you and best wishes, Chris

Fr Michael Brown said...

Thanks Chris. I hope you continue to explore following the Catholic faith. If you`d like to talk any time do get in touch.