Saturday, 23 May 2015

Reflections on Mass at Sizergh Castle Chapel

During the summer months, the followers of the Extraordinary Form in the Lancaster Diocese have two or three jaunts away from where we usually meet for Mass.  We gather near Kendal at Sizergh Castle, a National Trust
property but also home to the Hornyold-Strickland family, and to the Strickland family since 1239. It's possible that Catherine Parr lived here for a while, and Sir Thomas Strickland was a member of the court of James II in exile. 

While it's probable that the pele tower contained an oratory, the current chapel is at the end of one of two wings forming a
courtyard.  Walking about while serving Mass is always entertaining as the floor is far from level.  You can set off intending to walk forwards, and end up heading off to one side, like an errant shopping trolley!

The congregation numbers up to forty people, who travel from the further reaches of our Diocese and even beyond, and we are fortunate to have priests willing to travel some distance to say Mass for us.

Why do we do this?  It would be easy to dismiss this as an excuse to go and have Mass "in a castle", and it's true, there is something a little special about the location, and being there after-hours.  

I've visited the gardens many times with my family, and it still feels a little naughty driving in the gate next to the car park to reach the castle itself directly.

But there's more to it than that.

Until the election of Pope Benedict XIV and what followed, looking backwards at the Mass and its development was rather unfashionable and more than a little frowned upon in many places.  This isn't a good thing, as the Mass didn't spontaneously appear in 1970, and Pope Benedict was clear that there was no rupture, simply two different forms of the same rite, continuity being maintained.  It is, therefore, not a bad thing to have some idea how we got to where we are - in fact it's actually a very good thing.

These days, we're used to having Diocesan Bishops.  We've always had them, and our grandparents always had them, but before the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850, and the establishment of fixed territories, things were a little different, and had been right through penal times when we had no churches.  We did, in later times, have Bishops in this country, but their sees were in partibus infidelium and they functioned as Vicars Apostolic.  Throughout these trying times, an alternative system of provision had existed, arranged through what is sometimes called the "squirearchy" - to celebrate Mass, you needed a priest, and a room large
enough to hold the other thing that justified the whole risky business - a congregation.  Priests came to this country not to say Mass, but to say Mass for us.  To do this, and to keep the priest safe and well, and to help him move around required the help of good Catholics with the necessary resources - generally old families with land and property. 

Of course, we're familiar with the priests who ran the ultimate risk and lost all, but it's important to remember that these families also risked, and sometimes lost, a great deal by doing such a service to the local Catholic faithful.

So, meeting a few times during the lighter part of the summer in the chapel of the ancestral home of a long-standing Catholic family is not just a novelty, it's a reminder of how the
Faith was kept alive, and a way of acknowledging that - remembering where we came from, and how we got to where we are, with the freedom to build public churches on the High Street as well as private chapels hidden on estates.

For the invitation to say Mass in the chapel, we are grateful to the Hornyold-Strickland family and to the National Trust staff for making the necessary arrangements.  We are fortunate to be able to continue using the chapel after the death of Mrs Angela Hornyold-Strickland this spring. Please
pray for the repose of her soul; she was always pleased to welcome us to the chapel and accommodate the Extraordinary Form, and also spare a prayer for vocations, and for priests to learn the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

John Rogan

There will be two more Masses at Sizergh this summer, on Friday 26th June at 12.15 pm when the celebrant will be Fr Simon Henry, and on Friday 3rd July at 7.00 pm with Fr John Millar.

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