Today to Hampshire to assist at the requiem mass of a long-standing member of the 'congregation' of the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady and St John at Alton.
Anglican Benedictine communities are not supposed to have 'congregations'. 'They should be worshiping in their parish churches' as a newly-appointed bishop said to the Abbot before he discovered he had as much hope of stopping people coming to the Abbey as King Canute had of turning back the waves. Today there were 70 or so people in the little Abbey Church which normally seats 40. Half of them were such members of the regular congregation who could get away on a Wednesday afternoon and the other half friends and relatives of the deceased lady. Most of those in the latter category clearly seldom darkened the door of any church let alone one in which I am perfectly certain the Pope (and this Pope in particular) would have felt as liturgically comfortable as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Such things can happen in a monastery but the secret lies in Chapter 53 of the Rule of St Benedict which instructs that 'all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.' Every single person who came to the Abbey this afternoon to mourn a much-loved friend or relative was welcomed as Christ whether they recognised their honoured status or not.
The picture is of the cemetary at Alton Abbey taken a month ago in Holy Week. Today it looked very different. A month's growth at this time of year is transformational. And it was raining. But they always say it's good if it rains at an interment. One can be sure the coffin is well bedded in.
Rest in peace, Paulene.