26 February 2014


One occasionally hears it said among clergy that, while it is understandable that the elderly should have an affection for the tradition in which they grew up, a preference for the Ancient Roman Rite when found among the young, can only be a fashion or a fad. This reminds me of a lecturer at Oxford in the mid-1960s, Austin Baker, who quoted the view of the psalmist that never had he seen the poor and righteous man begging his bread, and commented: "It makes one want to say: 'You should try to get out a bit more'". That memory came vividly back to me when I had the privilege to stay with a vibrant young community, the Transalpine Redemptorists on Papa Stronsay. Not only is the Community young in the sense we use that word with regard to many other communities (that they're mostly under 65), but it is really young.

And what a 'fashion'! They get up in the morning at the faddish time of 4.55. They not only pray hard all day, but work hard all day. There is a atmosphere of 24/7/365 commitment. To those who call such commitment to the religious life and the Church's ancient Liturgy (Mass and Office,  Vetus Ordo) a 'fashion', I would suggest "You should try to get out a bit more ... broaden your narrow horizons ... meet more real people ... find out what their 'fashion' commits them to ... how their 'fashion', aka Divine Grace, truly does 'fashion' them". I can only say how deeply impressed I was by the experience of a religious community drawing living water from the deep wells of the religious life as it was lived before the collapses of the 1960s and 1970s.

Members of the Community had come all the way to Oxford for the occasion of my 'Catholic Ordination'. And to London the next morning when I said my First Mass in full communion with the See of S Peter at that lovely pietra dura Lady Altar in the Brompton Oratory. Their warm and loving sympathy had helped to sustain me in the difficult months which had gone before. And that such wonderful people should actually invite me to go and give them some Conferences! It was a six stage journey: 'bus into Oxford; coach to Birmingham; plane to Aberdeen; plane to Kirkwall; ferry to Stronsay; small boat to Papa Stronsay ... all meticulously planned by the Community. I was shown Kirkwall Cathedral, very much in the spirit of Durham but in a lovely pink sandstone; less 'empty' than most Anglican Cathedrals because, at the Reformation, the relics from its two great shrines, of S Magnus and S Rognvald, were preserved by being carefully placed in cavities behind stones in two of the pillars. But the 'real' place of prayer was the lovely little chapel on Papa Stronsay itself; holy, as Newman explained, as no other place can be holy, because of the Great Presence upon the Altar, the crucified Redeemer, the Man of Golgotha, by whose wounds we are healed. And Papa Stronsay is under the guardianship of our Lady of Perpetual Succour ... you leave her in the Chapel and she welcomes you in the Refectory. As we sang Salve Regina at the end of each Conference, I looked into her eyes and realised how powerful those misericordes oculi are.

The Redemptorists were not the first monks to occupy the island ... the name 'Papa' indicates that. Before the Vikings, way back in the first millennium, monks built their dwellings and chapels there; a decade or so ago, excavations revealed something of the history. Its fertility was such that the Viking went there for malt before their drinking bouts; and the brethren still skilfully exploit that fertility to challenge the Guinness Book of Records with the dimensions of the fruit they grow. We dodged the fulmars to walk round the island; I felt a little humbled when a gate was opened for me which an athletic visiting bishop, cassock and all, had leaped over with but one hand on the gatepost! Perhaps in centuries to come the Guestmaster will tell pilgrims the legend of Bishop ******'s Leap! I gathered that I was staying in 'Father Aidan's Room', which I could not but regard as a great honour.

How rare it is when one has a completely flawless and totally exhilarating six days ... ah, but I was forgetting! Something did go wrong! My case failed to make the transit at Aberdeen Airport! But ... not to worry ... kind hands recovered it and other kindly hands put it on the plane for Kirkwall and yet more transferred it to the ferry and finally, in a howling Orkney Gale, a small boat brought it across and willing hands heaved it over the Surging Brine and on to the jetty. And the gale soon blew itself out and gave way to the Aurora Borealis lighting us from the North. And those stars ... they were so gigantic ... so near!


Noah Moerbeek said...

Father, If they awake at 4:55AM what time do they go to bed? Do you know if they post their horarium anywhere?

Mark said...


The horarium is online here:
papastronsay.com/fssr/timetable/index.html. You will see they retire to their cells after 8pm, and lights-out are at 9pm strictly, when the generator goes off.

It may sound odd, but having spent a wonderful week there myself, I can say one very quickly gets used to it! Mind you, I maybe have the advantage of shift-work on my side.

Hope that helps!