For the last 8 or so years, my husband and I have been coming up to Scotland to go stalking - with a group of older generation couples (very slightly younger than my parents' generation). We go for 3 nights only. We fly to Inverness and then it's a 1.5 hour journey to the lodge which is in the hamlet of Robart.
I don't very often join the actual stalk- I have done it a few times but that was enough for me. Instead I go to Brora - about an hour's journey from the lodge, as there is a Catholic Church called "Christ the King". Up until last year, this parish had a resident priest - Fr Benedict Seed. I am lucky to have attended mass every year - at least once and sometimes twice.
Before we went I rang the parish number to find out the mass times, and the deacon who answered said there was mass on Thursday 3rd October preceded by the Holy Rosary - being the month of October.
For the first time I had a companion with me - one of the wives of the stalkers - not a Catholic, but an active Anglican in her local church in East Sussex. She really wanted to see what a Catholic mass was like - curious if you like.
So we arrived at the little church - and there were about 12 people there - pretty good attendance for a tiny town. We took our places and waited for the visiting priest. He was a bit delayed. Anyway - in breezed a jolly chap - in Scottish country attire. This shortish man reminded me of Raymond Briggs' cartoon character "Father Christmas", with his jolly red face, white beard, confident and extrovert manner and wide sparking eyes. He went to the altar - turned around and apologised for being late. He had a lovely beaming smile. This was the famous and controversial Monseigneur Basil Loftus. He writes for "The Tablet" and "Catholic Times". I had read one of his articles which was rather unorthodox. Although "The Tablet" claims to be Catholic it is more Protestant in its views and its readership is mostly Anglicans - who relish it with delight!
After a quick change into his priestly vestments, he and the distinguished looking tall deacon walked up to the altar. Before the mass began he gave us a sermon. He said that it was a terribly exciting day because Pope Francis was in his closed meeting with his 'cabinet' of 8 cardinals - who the Pope selected to help him sort out the Vatican bureaucracy, curia and the scandalous Vatican bank. He also said that the readings of the day were terribly apt, especially the first reading (Nehemiah 8: 1-12). He said that like the Israelites the Church too has had 40 years of wilderness, but now with Pope Francis - all that is changing - my golly goodness me! He said we can't bother ourselves with petty rules and regulations - got to concentrate on the more important stuff. He is utterly delighted with the new Holy Father.
The mass was said with great reverence indeed and instead of little bells at the consecration - there was more of a booming gong - 3 times at both the consecrations.
My companion went up to get a blessing as I explained that we don't have inter-communion and he gave her a beaming smile and blessed her.
After mass we were all invited into the parish room for coffee and cakes. Why not we thought. So we went and socialised. I learnt that they parishioners are very worried that Bishop Hugh Gilbert is going to shut the church as there is no resident priest anymore.
The monseigneur beamed up to us and asked us where we were from. I said we were from Sussex and that we were stalking with our husbands. He got the wrong end of the stick - he thought I said we were stalking husbands! - and a great guffaw of peels and laughter issued from his jolly face. We made his day clearly! He said a great friend of his came from our part of the world - Bishop John Hine.
I mentioned that he had a potential convert who comes to mass at Brora - the honourable Martin Janson, son of the Countess of Sutherland. He looked startled and said - "Didn't think we were supposed to get converts anymore!!". More jovial laughter.
The deacon explained to me something rather interesting about Mgr Basil and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He says it was Mgr Basil who took 3 of the Anglo-Catholic vicars to Rome to see what could be done about their precarious situation. Precarious because although a branch within the CofE, they were "personas not grata" within that organisation, because they did not agree with the CofE's move towards women bishops. Basil must have put the seed in Pope Benedict's mind and now we have The Ordinariate! Brilliant. I just wonder if this is what Baz envisioned? Perhaps not, but God works in strange ways and through various personalities (including unorthodox!) Good on you Baz! Good work! Wish I could say the same for your heterodox articles!
But I expect the origins of the Ordinariate are more complicated than what I heard. I think there were many strands leading up to it. I hope there will be a book on the history of the Ordinariate.
He wanted to know what we were up to next, and we said we were going to visit the vintage shop in the village. He laughed (in a sort of way which said "typical women!"), bade us goodbye and put on his eccentric tweed cap and strode to his car.
A most unforgettable encounter!