FR ALF'S FIELD MASS KIT ~ APRIL 2020
Father Alf is using his Army Mass Kit when saying Mass in the presbytery whilst our churches are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
I asked him to share the background of this kit, his travels with it and describe its contents to us.
This can be viewed on out YouTube channel ~ WulstanEdmund ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21WR6EnhRRs&t=473s
Please find the transcript and photos here.
Well Maria, here we are. You’ve asked me to explain about my army Mass kit so there it is and I will explain a little bit about this particular one later on.
But just to give you a little bit of background. You will have seen newsreel photographs of chaplains in the Second World War for example, in deed in the First World War as well. What they had was a huge box, a big green metal box about the size of a small trunk, very heavy, with an inside tray you could lift out which had everything in there. I think the Catholic one also had the altar stone in it. That was fine I suppose, because certainly in the Second World War, when it was more mobile than the trench warfare in the First World War, the priest would have transport and he would have a dedicated driver or a batman and they would go and say Mass for the troops on the tailboard of a Land Rover or the Jeep or the lorry, whatever it was. Which was fine, because of course in those days it was the Tridentine Mass, the Latin Mass, and so the priests had their back to the people so the tailboard would be like an altar. Of course, in modern times, with the mass facing the people, that would have been quite a tricky thing to do.
When I joined the army in the late 70s, early 80s we were issued with a small brown suitcase rather like one you'd see a schoolboy taking to school. Again it had little compartments in it for smaller things and that's the one that I actually took to the Falklands with me. But it wasn't very practical. I couldn't hook it onto my webbing or the kit that I carried as well. I remember one particular thing when I was with 2 Para going from Goose Green to Fitzroy Bay. We were going to set up the field hospital and it was terrible weather and the wind was blowing like a hurricane. I had all this pack on my back and carrying the suitcase. The wind got hold of it and bashed it against me and it was all over the place and upset my balance as we were going over this really rough, marshy terrain and rocks. So it wasn't really an ideal bit of kit at all. When I got back from the Falklands I shared that experience with the Chaplains Department and I personally designed my own Mass kit. I got some DPM, some camouflage clothing that would fit in with our camouflage and I designed it in such a way that it was like a big belt and you could put the chalice in here and the cruets in here and things like that and then it all tied up. I could actually put it inside my Bergen and carry it with me there. One of the girls in the parish, who worked for the military tailor, sewed it all together. I used that for a few years. On exercise in particular and it worked out ok. It was a bit messy I suppose but at least it was practical. Then, in the 1988-90, I was the staff chaplain at the MOD which is the headquarters of the Royal Army Chaplains Department and we were looking at a new Mass kit and we had various samples sent to us from various companies. Unbelievably, as far as I was concerned, the hierarchy went for the black case which you would see in catalogues from ecclesiastical suppliers. This was actually brilliant for house masses, you know, because you take it out the back of your car, bring it in, set it up and it's great; but totally, utterly useless for the field because it was made of cardboard on the inside. So as soon as it got wet, that was the end of that!
I personally much preferred the American version, which was too expensive, which is what I will show you. This was too expensive so they went for the other version. I much preferred the American one and I was sure the manufacturers wouldn't really want us to send the sample back so here it is after all those years.
I've used it all over the world since, especially in Northern Ireland. There were tours of Northern Ireland where I would often say Mass, maybe for one, two, three people in isolated places on the border or in Belfast where there were areas which were very busy, busy, busy all the time. Very often the guys didn't have chance to come to Mass anyway so I would set up wherever I could. So, for example, when I went to the Falklands with that Mass kit I had, I went down on the QEII which was a troop ship at the time and I said Mass wherever I could get room, including a cocktail bar, on a stewardesses trolley in their kitchen in the staff kitchen, in the laundry room at the very bottom of the ship. I did also have the use of the theatre for a big Mass on a Sunday but all the other days just anywhere I could find an ounce of space and that's of course the beauty of this because you can set it up anywhere. There was one stage where I actually said Mass on a top of an oil drum, after the Battle of Goose Green, for 2 Para. I improvised all the time. This kit has been all over the world with me since, all the tours I did everywhere I went really. It’s been on exercise with me and also on operations. So it’s pretty good and I’ll show you why it's so good really. First thing is that it's the right colour, it's easy to carry, I can clip it on to my Bergen on my back and it will sit on the top. It's quite heavy but it's really well thought out.
The reason Maria asked me to do this was because I'm saying mass in the house because of the Covid 19 restrictions that we can't say Mass in public. I have another table here and I have it laid out as an altar every morning and I say mass for you all while we can't be together. So what I'll do now is I'll undo it. As you can see it's got Velcro on, it's very secure and that keeps it dry. There's a little list of all the things that, typical army you know, they give you. Absolutely everything that goes in and should do. I've adapted it, of course, as you do.
First thing that comes out is my stole, my army stole. We don't call it a stole actually, it's called a regimental scarf, and that was because I wouldn't use vestments, I would just put this over my uniform. This would be used for all masses whatever the liturgical time of the year. Obviously we need some altar linen so I’ll put the altar linen here, first of all the Corporal.
I won't put it on this table that I normally say Mass on because it’s too difficult for our intrepid photographer to follow me around this enclosed space, so we'll make an altar here. So that's the corporal, this is the missal that I need and this is a rather ingenious little book stand with a chain. Any idea what the chain’s for? - windy conditions. In fact, I use this stand in the cemetery when I say the cemetery mass every year. You just put the chain over like that and it stops the pages from blowing open and then that's improvised piece of, what's that? foam, and that keeps all this safe.
So first thing to come out is the crucifix, then the candles and they've got tops on again. Why tops? - to stop the winds blowing the candles out. Then we have the chalice and the paten and then we have the box that holds the altar breads, the hosts. So let’s put one on there just for show at the moment. Then of course we also need wine and water which is there. A lighter to light the candles (you don't need to see that).
We need a purificator and ‘voila’, that’s it. Oh yes, I've not brought the lectionary with the readings in but that's the only thing missing and that's it, that's my Mass kit. You’ll see it better when I lay out in the house of course. You can see how compact it is. I could get it all onto all those things I mentioned before a tea tray, trolley, upturned oil drum, all sort of things.
I also have this smaller version, and I can't remember where I got this from. I 'm sure somebody gave it to me. This is a version I can take on holiday. That's the strap that holds it together, there's a stole, reversible; here's a little pyx for holding the hosts. I can’t remember which army I got this from, I don't think it was ours anyway. There's the paten. I took this way one away with me last year when I went skiing so I could say Mass. This is the chalice, well actually that's the chalic but it screws on it and of course we have a crucifix. I can't find the bottom for it and an army style corporal.
I seem to have mislaid the bottom of the crucifix but it doesn't matter because I would lay that down when I was when I was saying Mass anyway. This is the corporal, this is the purificator, there’s the lavabo cloth for washing the hands. This little thing here this is for anointing, giving people the last rites. We have the oil of the sick in there to anoint those who are sick or dying. Then some little thing to hold the holy water for the mass. Voila!
So this is how I lay my Mass kit out for daily Mass here in the presbytery during the time of the Covid 19 and every day I remember you at mass, all of you, as we promised at the beginning of this, that we pray for each other. We're all included in every mass that I say here until such time as we can celebrate together in the church. So God Bless everybody.