To St. Charles, after climbing three peaks in one day, for what friends of mine describe as “’igh and ‘oly ceremonies”. I must confess I was still a bit unsteady after the previous day’s exertions, but there was no way I could miss this: a sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form in my beautiful parish church. It was the climax of w week long tour made by the choir of Fisher House, Cambridge, the Catholic Chaplaincy for the University of Cambridge; a most illustrious body! They had sung one or two concerts in the area, as well as a Mass in the EF at Scarborough, for which I was the MC. This had been surprisingly well attended, since it was at 5pm on a weekday evening; however, St. Charles was to be the highlight and grand finale.
Since I was on home ground, I was able to put out some of our more beautiful furnishings: the 19th century Gothic Chalice, Canon Hall (a legendary former parish priest of St. Charles)’s Missal, given to him as an anniversary of ordination present in the 1900s, with a colour illuminated Canon, and a near perfect condition Altar cloth, embroidered with “O Salutaris Hostia!” Quite what the exclaimation mark on it is for I don’t know; should one really be surprised at the appearance of the Saving Victim?
The music was, expectedly, superb, and mostly early polyphony, including a 10th century Kyrie, and a Sanctus that was out of this world.
It was an event I never expected to happen. At least not for a long while; but happen it did, and beautiful it was.
What struck me most was not the music, though it was beautiful, or Fr. Stephen's preaching, which was superb, not to mention no nonsense and had me in stitches the entire time; or even being able to stand at the High Altar of a church I love, assisting at a form of the Mass I love.
Rather it was the congregation. The vast majority hadn't seen this for many, many years, if at all; there were far, far more than we expected, around 140/150, so there weren‘t nearly enough sheets or Mass books to go round. Few brought their own Missals, but they followed it, just about. They managed to work out what was meant to come next, and I hope some of them realised that the differences in structure between the two forms of the Rite are not very great at all. There were some false starts, but by the Credo, they were well into it, and the almighty clatter of kneelers as they all knelt for the Incarnatus, testified! (I seem to remember Ronnie Knox remarking, in the Mass in Slow Motion, on the creaking of chairs that testify our homage to the God made Man.)
I was talking to a few beforehand, and a goodly number could remember it, and were extremely pleased to be present, if only for nostalgia: to be able to attend Mass as they did when they were children. It was interesting the little things they remembered, and what stuck most in their memories, such as the Elevation of the Chalice, and most strongly of all, kneeling at the Altar rails, and receiving Communion- this was what brought most of them so much joy. One lady in particular, I noticed, as I went along with the Communion Paten, needed considerable assistance walking- she was very small, very frail, very hunched and helped along by someone who gave the appearance of being her daughter; but once she was at the rail, she knelt, and one got the impression that nothing on earth would have stopped her kneeling to receive her Lord. She knelt upright, and received, then, as we passed on, I noticed her companion help her to stand again, and supported her as she went back to her place. I think that moment, most of all, struck me as the most beautiful, and it was a very great privilege to be there to see it.
This is not to denigrate in any way the superb work by Matthew Ward and the Fisher House choir, who’s early polyphony was beautiful. There were truly moments when “we knew not if we were in heaven or on earth”.
It would be nice to think this would be the first of many. And it would be nice to see something like it happen again; but nicer still to have even just a Low Mass in that church, say one Wednesday evening a month, even just to show people the simplicity of the Rite, as well as the grandeur.
Now a High Mass….
A full set of photos can be found here, courtesy of the inimitable Mike Forbester of Rudgate Ramblings, amongst other places: