It was like something in a Lucy Maud Montgomery book, poppets! Yours truly was asked to help serve tea after church. I felt as if I had definitely arrived.
In Canada (and, I think, Britain) before the Second World War, being asked to pour the tea at a tea party or any other social gathering was seen as an honour. And we are nothing if not anachronistic in my little Extraordinary Form of the Mass parish community. Not that there is anything anachronistic about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which transcends time. No, it's just that we tend to go in for tweed, mantillas, bicycles and old-fashioned courtesy.
I remember being rather confused, for the first 38 years of my life, whether the altar was more of an altar or more of a table. Since I went to ordinary post-Vatican II Catholic school, there seemed to be a lot of emphasis on "table" and "gathering around the table" when, in fact, the altar didn't really look like a table. No matter what, it looked like an altar. No matter how many people stood around it, what was going on did not look like a dinner party but like an intensely serious ritual.
But now this has all been cleared up for me, and I am strongly convinced that an altar is an altar and not a table, save in the the most analogical sense. However, I can see why people would want the altar to be a table. And to such people, who badly want their Sunday worship to be about people being in solidarity with other people, not about each person worshipping God, I strongly suggest they go to or found an after-Mass tea.
Mass is Mass, and tea is tea. At Mass you have a priest, an altar and some altar servers. At tea you have the tea lady, the table, and some table servers. Simples. From my neo-Tridentine point of view, men serve at the altar, and women serve at the tea. And, heaven knows, tea must be very important, since so many people want Mass to be tea: handshaking and fellowship and maximum participation and whatnot.
The Cup of Tea of Peace, as I like to call it, is usually presided over by the most senior women of the parish, although the eldest prefers just to wait until it is almost done and then help with the washing and sweeping up. But if some are away, then they ask younger ladies to help. This week, two were away, so the ladies who presided were one senior lady, me, and the eldest lady at the end. I got the teapot because it is heavy.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" I carolled again and again, and thus had the great pleasure of talking to everyone in the parish who wanted a cuppa. And it struck me that for a Single person this would a very good thing indeed. You can get involved in all kinds of parish activities, but the one job that guarantees you getting to know and becoming known by every sociable person in the parish is pouring out the after-Mass tea.
As a tea lady, you would have a built-in excuse to speak to even the most handsome and bachelory of the handsome bachelors and your lovely smile might inspire the more scheming of the ladies to drag their sons/grandsons/proteges to their Mass for the purpose of meeting you afterwards. Just don't dress like a mouse out of Beatrix Potter.
I suppose it is terrible to look immediately at the earthly benefits of serving at the tea table as opposed to the joy and peace inherent in service. And actually I did think a lot about Saint Edith Stein yesterday as I poured out tea and ran the ancient carpet-sweeper over the floor. Edith Stein would have agreed with me that a female theologian who is too grand to pour tea, wipe cups and push the carpet-sweeper is no theologian at all.
But this is, after all, a blog for Single ladies, so in case you haven't thought of it yet: say yes if you are asked to volunteer to serve tea or coffee after Mass, or after any other respectable gathering.
Update: Ooh la la! Just passed 10,000 hits for the month. I've never noticed that before.