Once upon a time, it was said that you had made your Sunday obligation if you got to Mass before the priest uncovered the chalice and did not leave until he had covered it up again. And that is why, my fellow Edinburgh TLMers, it is when Father covers the chalice that I gather up my belongings and toddle out the more easterly door towards the church hall. Unless there's Adoration or the Blessing of Throats, I figure I have five, maybe ten minutes, to set the tea table before the first children come bursting in or the first adult appears looking for a cuppa.
It takes concentration, and as soon as I take off my hat and coat, I'm in the Zone.
Usually another lady appears, whom I welcome with shouts of joy and instructions like "More cups! Saucers! Milk jugs! We need spoons."
I seem to remember my predecessors leaving a tad earlier--right after Holy Communion, for example--but they were older than me and possibly slower-moving. In their day, I was a dashing, relatively young-ish married woman, who associated the pouring out of the tea and the drying of the cups with the over-70 set, the Old Guard who stayed faithful to the Traditional Latin Mass from the darkest days of the 1960s and 1970s. Miss Campbell, who studied Anglo-Saxon at the University of Glasgow even before Tolkien had
written published The Monster and the Critics, brought a dish towel in her handbag and rose up once she had finished her tea and tired of chatter to help the other Old Guard ladies to dry the dishes.
Miss Campbell has now joined the list of the parishioners I remember in my prayers at Mass, and today I (cough) feature as one of the older ladies of the community, in part because the average age of our members has plummeted in the past four years. Yes, we always attracted students, but now we have been sought out by a number of young parents, too. Loving what they find in the church, they often go into the hall afterwards, bringing their babies, toddlers and more active children. And loving children, they periodically appear with new ones bundled up in their arms. And one mother, seeing on a visit that--unlike her usual parish community--our community had children her sons' age, opted for the Traditional Latin Mass simply because of that. (In Canada,
this a similar phenomenon was once known as La Revanche du Berceau.)
I am reminded, by the way, of the end of my Left-wing Period, a time when I used inclusive language at Mass and repeated made-up pronouns for God. I was at a meeting for women's ordination advocates (this was over 20 years ago and before I went to theology school), feeling rather shy and disturbed that the meeting had not begun with a prayer. Near the end of the meeting, one of the women said, with the enjoyment of the comfortable complainer, something like "Our children won't continue this fight. When they were babies, we'd have priests and nuns over all the time, and now they don't even go to Mass."
At the time I was a mixed-up twenty-something (at whom our current twenty-somethings would raise an eyebrow and very likely not invite to their Sunday Lunches), but even I understood that that woman had read out her movement's death warrant.
Of course, John Paul II was still alive, so I wasn't counting on the vampire-like return of certain discredited cardinals I could name and the rise of the crypto-progressives then hiding under cleverly donned coats of orthodoxy. But that said, that particular group was more interested in women's ordination than they were in the spiritual and social sustenance of women with more than one or two children. And frankly, mes amis, whoever has the most babies for the Berceaux wins.
But to get back to my Valentine to the TLM community of my archdiocese, I love it when the children flock to the biscuit plates, wheel away like seagulls, and then return when the biscuit plates are replenished.
I very much enjoy asking "Coffee or tea?" of everyone in the jumbled queue, even as other people murmur such interesting information as "We had 100 today" in my ear or extol me to alert everyone to this prayer movement or that missive to Rome.
I cherish the view of the crowds beyond the tea table: the young parents talking to young parents, the students chatting with students, the middle-aged finding common cause, the occasional mixing and the periodic mingling. My predecessors, I am sure, did not have so impressive and varied a view.
And Master of Divinity and author of two books, I exult in the fact that I have invented a new, more efficient, and definitely more hygienic way of washing the cups.
Child of the 1970s, I even relish in the phrase "you young people" as in, "Would one of you young people hoover the carpet?" Being a child of the 1970s (and teenager of the 1980s), I was solidly formed in the ecclesiastical school of the Importance of the Young. The young confer demographic prestige, I know, and we have the young. Bless you, you young people.
I realise suddenly that I have not really said much in this Valentine about the TLM itself. However, if you want to read about the liturgy, away with you to the New Liturgical Movement or One Peter Five to read the learned thoughts of Gregory Di Pippo or Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. There are any number of men (and presumably some women) who are experts on what happens between Noon and 1:20 PM in our (rented) little wooden church. My field is what happens immediately afterwards, and my interest is that anyone who enters the hall, on foot or in wheelchair, feels safe and welcome and has enough milk and biscuits to go with his or her tea or coffee.
It's not as high status as being an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Marquette, but it's what I was clearly called to do, and so, for me, it is better. I pray you all hear your own calling sooner rather than later, and that you all have a happy Valentine's Day with people you love!
Update: Let it be known that the tea ladies of the earlier Mass left us their leftover biscuits, banana bread and squash, which was thoughtful of them.