Our priest brought the sixteenth-century vestments to show us at Mass. They date from the recusant times. On the back is a crucifix. Finely woven angels collect Jesus’ blood in a silver cup.
It made me contemplate on the extraordinary faith of these times – a faith it seems I cannot emulate, a certainty. I hoped that my trip to the baptism site on Monday might help give me that faith. Meanwhile, we can remember simple pleasures.
On Saturday evening, the longest day, we set the table up for a barbecue in the middle of the garden. As the family ate its hamburgers, the light gently faded about us. Until by eleven we were in total darkness.
I was here at the baptism site on the River Jordan. A blazing sun, 39 degrees Celsius in the shade, hot and stiffly. I walked towards the Jordan. Scrubby bushes, yellow, gravely soil, far away on the hazy far-off hills. Jericho.
And here was the Jordan, cut deeply in its dried-bushed banks, barely twenty feet wide, moving, yellowish, slowly. We walked on and here was the site at Bethany, east of Jordan. It is believed this is the site because very ancient remains of early Byzantine churches washed away by floods and earthquakes have been found here. The Jordan now flows a hundred yards to the west in its new course. It was so hot it would indeed have been nice to bathe.
I had hoped that in this most holy spot, where it had all started, I might feel more emotion but like any modern tourist I was more concerned with taking my photos. But the memory remains. I have been there. I suppose what remains is the very great simplicity of the place. This is Christianity shorn of all its trappings and liturgy. In the lowest part of the world, in this heat and in a place by no way beautiful, a man comes to be baptised.
ST JOHN’S DAY
A complete contrast. Here I was for the St John’s Day Mass of the Order of Malta at the Brompton Oratory. Tired, having flown all night to see my daughter get a medal for her work at Lourdes. A two-hour mass sung in Latin, all the detailed trappings. What a world away from that simple man at that dusty place of baptism. I fell asleep a couple of times. The mass, the investitures, seemed very long, very pompous. Yet beautiful and sure. There is nothing wrong in beauty and respect and ceremony but is it the essence?
Perhaps I was vaguely discouraged. No revelation had appeared at the Baptism site but here I was at a simple low evening mass in the crypt of Strasbourg Cathedral. The words of the Gospel in their simplicity and the sermon seemed to have their effect.
“I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
I started to realise: we are so self-conscious, too inwardly focused. We should concentrate on what we do, not who we are. In this simple mass, a golden lesson was found.
I went to the early Mass in Strasbourg Cathedral. I’m afraid I can’t really get into the complexities of the politics of Joachim, particularly when it is in French, but a calm moment anyway before getting back in the train.
We were at Downside for Mozart’s Coronation Mass. Is there anything more glorious than this piece of music? When I have my funeral, may it not be a dreary requiem Mass with black vestments but something jolly like this. How much better than going to hear this Mozart in a concert hall. The effervescent glorious Agnus Dei needs to be played by an orchestra, yes, but in the context for which they were written: a Latin Mass.
Eckhart Tolle bemoans that spontaneity is submerged by words but who can doubt the power of poetry.
My eyes wasted away with weeping
My entrails shuddered
My liver spilled on the ground
At the ruin of the daughters of my people
As children, mere infants fainted
In the squares of the citadel.