torsdag 18 april 2013

Four decades of Catholic music - 6

Demolition job
Soon after Fr Dickerson retired, the other priest were moved away. If I recall correctly, Fr van der Most and Fr Benyon had gone by then and Fr Mark Elvins was curate. He went to St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton and Fr Michael Reynell was brought in to St Peter's from West Byfleet, where he had imposed the full panoply of changes following the Second Vatican Council. He was accompanied by an elderly priest as curate.

The first thing to go was the Ad Orientem celebration of Mass (true east at St Peters), followed by most of the Latin - ie the responses and the Canon. This left just the Ordinary and the Proper in Latin. By the standards of today, that would be considered a respectable proportion of Latin, but the changes annoyed the congregration and it annoyed the choir, partly because the liturgy kept swapping languages in a messy way. The parish shed about one-third of its members pretty much immediately. Presumably some of them migrated to the neighbouring parishes of Sacred Heart and St Mary Magdalens, which were still holding out against the unwanted changes. They too were to go the same way within a decade, and after that there was nowhere left.

The parishioners begged the priest to leave things as they were but to no avail. He soon gained the nickname Obadiah, as in Rev. Obadiah Slope, a character in the Trollope novel Barchester Towers. A few weeks after his arrival there was a hostile meeting between Father and the choir in the choir loft, in which it was obvious that there would be no room for compromise. Tempers rose and one choir member called him a worm. This stuck, because he must have told his fellow clergy of the incident, and if they had to see him (he also held the office of Dean), they would say "I'm off to see the wur'rum."

Letters to the bishop, Cormac Murphy O'Connor were of no avail either. "Nothing to do with me, Guv", was the bishop's response, in the same tone as would be used by a local British Rail manager in reply to a complaint about an epidemic of cancelled trains. Of course it was everything to do with the bishop but he did not want to admit responsibility. The other priest (I think he was called Fr Paul), was more than sympathetic but could do nothing.

Nevertheless, things continued in much the same vein for three years or so, with the introduction of Protestant metrical hymns at a few points, first and last verses only. The son of the choirmistress took charge. His full-time job was as tenant of the Bedford Tavern, a popular pub in the middle of Brighton, and he had the engaging habit of handing round Jaegermeister miniatures at the start of the Sunday rehearsals, in case anyone had a hangover from the night before.

For some reason, Fr Michael had an objection to Marian hymns at the Offertory and these was a source of tension at first, though eventually we got to know his foibles. Further conflict was avoided but there was always an underlying animosity in both directions.

The axe came three years later, when numbers attending Mass had dwindled to the point when the 11.00 Latin Mass and the 12.00 Folk Mass could be merged. The two groups of musicians were then told that their services would no longer be required.

With the opposition thus despatched, the church building then became the subject of a determined attack. The original marble altar and altar rails dating from 1915 were smashed up and replaced by a dull array consisting of chair, altar and altar, sufficiently in keeping to get the approval of the local planning authority, at a cost of £30,000, a hefty sum in the 1980s. This was in the days when ecclesiastical buildings were exempt from planning control and at that time the church was not included on the list of protected buildings of architectural and historic interest. This did not happen until much later, and partly as a result of the years of rampant and unchecked clerical vandalism.

For the choir, however, it was a new beginning. We refused to be silenced and were unanimous in our determination to continue. The choir took the name of SPEM, the accusative form of spes, meaning hope, and standing for St Peter's outside the walls.

3 kommentarer:

Pastor in Valle sa...

Yes, Physiocrat, I can attest to everything you write. This sad catalogue is indeed what happened, extraordinary though it might seem. I was curate at the Sacred Heart Church in the latter part of this debacle and knew many of the participants. Indeed, the Jagermeister-toting choirmaster is now a parishioner of mine in the Valle Adurni, and no doubt I shall be seeing him in an hour or so at the Extraordinary Form Mass. In those days, the inaccurately called 'liberals' did more or less what they wished without regard for the sensibilities of others.

Genty sa...

I have come across your post rather late in the day via google, having only now learned the name of the wrecking priest. Prayers were asked at St. Peter's this weekend for the repose of his soul, RIP. I lived in London while all this was going on so my fond memories of this beautiful church with Frs. Benyon and Storey and the 11.0am Mass remained intact, until I popped in one Christmas many years later, while on a visit to my parents. I couldn't believe my eyes. In fact, I actually cried. By then this priest had gone but his remnants had left an indelible and irretrievable mark. The real villain of the piece was CMOC, the wrecker-in-chief who tried the same stunt at Westminster Cathedral but, thankfully, failed. Of the parishes I know in Brighton and Hove it seems that none has remained untouched by his baleful influence, even to the next generation bishop of A&B. Unfortunately, the old meddler still behaves as though A&B is his personal fiefdom. One can only hope and pray that he doesn't manage to get another of his acolytes on to the episcopal throne.

Physiocrat sa...

We need to pray for the repose of his soul, he was misguided, and by whom?

St Mary Magdalens at least is back on track, and so are some other parishes in the Diocese. Things are not so bad.

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