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Father Christopher writes:-

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For most of us the holiday season is now over and I have recently returned from my annual holiday in Devon. The purpose of a holiday is in part at least to leave one refreshed and recharged for the year ahead, to give a break from routine. But of course, some routines cannot be broken and the obligation to hear Mass persists throughout the holiday period. One cannot always find a church with the same churchmanship that one is used to but the most important thing is to find a church where one can depend on the validity of the sacraments. The website of The Society has a list of churches affiliated to The Society and sadly this shows some quite large areas of the country where there are gaps. Statistics published at the end of September showing that this year the number of women entering training for ordination is greater than the number of men can only add to one's concern for the future.

I was very fortunate in the churches I was able to attend on holiday. In the village where we stay there is a church, St David's, dating from Norman foundations; one of very few churches in England dedicated to St David, it is Grade 1 listed with a Norman font, and a thirteenth century tower. Its possessions include a silver gilt chalice still in regular use which dates from c.1250. Sadly it is part of a team ministry with women clergy so I was unable to go there for Mass but the church is open and unattended during the day and it was a delight that each morning I was able to go there to say the Office in quiet and solitude. For although corporate worship is important, often one just needs to sit alone and reflect. Saying the Office in a church where over many centuries, pre- and post-Reformation, thousands of villagers have gathered together in worship made me feel very aware that I was indeed part of the Communion of Saints.

Unfortunately, St David's belongs to a benefice that has seven parishes with nine churches. As a recent letter in the Church Times points out, the purpose of these large benefices was to maintain the parish system. However, one feature of a parish system is that a parish church is a group of people whose main purpose is to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday as we do here at All Saints'. With these large benefices it is not possible to have a weekly Sunday Eucharist at every parish church and at St David's this was often replaced by village worship or communion by extension. They usually had a Sunday Eucharist once a month. I fear this is all too common in many rural communities but it must be distressing for those accustomed to making their weekly communion.

It is a very happy coincidence that a priest with whom I trained for ordination is Vicar of All Saints' Church Babbacombe, like us a Society parish, so this was the perfect place to go for a weekday Mass. Babbacombe's All Saints' was built by the great William Butterfield and like St David's is grade 1 listed. It is twenty five years  older than our church but like us seeks to maintain the Catholic faith handed down to us from the Apostles. Sunday Mass meant going to Buckfast Abbey, a beautiful Benedictine abbey near the river Dart on the edge of Dartmoor. The original abbey was established in pre-Norman times but following the dissolution of the monasteries the abbey was destroyed and the present church not rebuilt until the start of the twentieth century, being built by the monks themselves over a thirty-year period. A video at the abbey points out that the monks who built it were all untrained in bricklaying and construction and I couldn't avoid thinking about the possibility that the corner stone might come toppling down. The Abbey Church has wonderful liturgy and outstanding music. Of course, as with any other church, the sustainability of the abbey depends on raising money and with its sales of Buckfast tonic, Buckfast honey and its very busy souvenir/bookshop it was perhaps inevitable that it should earn the name Fastbuck Abbey.

I certainly came back from holiday recharged. Unfortunately I returned to find the battery of my car flat.

Blessings,

Fr Christopher.

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