fredag 19 januari 2018

How the liturgy was restored in an English parish

The following piece is an edited and updated version of a submission I wrote in 2013 as part of a submission to my local parish council. Although nothing was done at the time, the Parish Priest subsequently adopted the general principles. In the very different circumstances of my present parish, it was a courageous thing to do. He seems to have little support from most of his parishioners, who are dominated by ex-Lutherans and want in the Catholic church what they have always had in their former Lutheran home. Worse still, he receives no support, and from some, outright opposition, from his fellow clergy. Nor is there any support from the Diocese, whose approach to liturgy is pick-and-mix, which rules out the Traditional form of the Mass at Diocesan events. Nor, of course, is there support from Rome.

St Mary Magdalen’s is the city centre parish in Brighton, Sussex. It was the second Catholic parish in the town. The church building opened in stages as it was completed between 1861 and 1864. The architect was Gilbert Blount, architect to the Archdiocese of Westminster. It seems to have been a poor parish, with congregations drawn from the servant class. The more prosperous Catholics who arrived towards the end of the nineteenth century settled in Hove, to the west, which was developed to a spacious layout with wide streets designed for travel by carriage. The influx of intellectual converts to the English Catholic church during the inter-war period made its mark. If I recall correctly, the renowned Fr Wallace, Master of Ceremonies at Westminster Cathedral, was parish priest in the early part of the twentieth century, and it is likely that during his time there, such well-known individuals as Chesterton and Belloc attended Mass at St Mary Magdalen’s. Following the Second Vatican Council, the church was re-ordered in the early 1970s.

There was a long tradition of Gregorian chant in the parish, which continued under the incumbency of Canon Joseph Flanaghan, who remained as parish priest until his death on Ascension Day 1990, and apart from the change to the Novus Ordo and versus populum celebration, the main Sunday High Mass continued to be in Latin.

On the death of Canon Flanaghan, there was a disruptive interregnum of several months, after which Fr David Mascall, then in his late forties, took over the parish. Fr Mascall imposed changes which by 1990 had become standard practice elsewhere but were significant for St Mary Magdalen’s, which had not yet caught up: abandonment of Latin, communion received standing, in the hand and in both kinds, and eucharistic ministers. Further alterations were carried out to the church itself, including removal of the communion rails. These changes were well received by a minority, mostly parishioners then in their fifties, but on the whole they were disliked. Perhaps one-third of the congregation was lost, probably to the neighbouring Sacred Heart parish.

There followed a further period of relative stability until Fr Mascall was replaced by four Norbertine priests, who had been given charge of the parish with the aim of developing it. Unfortunately, one died soon afterwards, one was appointed school chaplain and had insufficient time to attend to the parish, and a third had to leave to care for an infirm parent. In the meantime, numbers dwindled and it seemed likely that the parish would close.

Thus when Fr Blake arrived in 2001, the parish was in bad shape. The liturgy was as bad as an English liturgy could be at the time, with the deficiencies of the ICEL translation compounded by dismal music, mostly of 1970s origin. An immediate change was that Fr Blake made himself available to hear confessions after every weekday and Saturday Mass, and parishioners were encouraged to receive this sacrament regularly, for example, one a month. The liturgy remained substantially unaltered, whilst the parish priest spent time getting to know parishioners and getting the feel of the parish; he made a special point of making himself available so that the people felt free to talk to him.

After a while he started to pass round books such as “Spirit of the Liturgy” and “Turning towards the Lord”, and tried to gauge people’s reactions to the ideas expressed.

The next change was to get the parish singing the Ordinary and Responses in Latin at the main Sunday High Mass. This was phased in over several months, beginning with the singing of the Creed, followed by the Pater Noster, and the other responses after that. At the same time Fr Blake began occasional experiments with other aspects of the liturgy, more often on weekdays; these included Ad Orientem celebration and silent recitation of the Canon (in English), as suggested in “Spirit of the Liturgy”. There were a few complaints, mostly from people in their seventies who had been enthused by the Vatican 2 changes thirty years before, but on the whole the response was positive and congregations started to grow.

Following the publication of Summorum Pontificum in 2007, Fr Blake attended one of the courses run by the Latin Mass Society and learned to celebrate Mass in what had been re-named the “Extraordinary Form”. Having learned it, the EF Mass was then celebrated from time to time, sometimes with a visiting choir, mostly on special occasions such as Fr Blake’s own Jubilee. A parish choir was established, with the aim of leading the congregation in the singing of the Gregorian chant settings of the Ordinary.

The next change was the introduction of the new English translation in 2010; the Bishop had no objection to its experimental use ahead of the official starting date. One of the striking features was the slightly old-fashioned feel of the language and a more extensive vocabulary than people would normally use. Attempts were made to use the musical settings of the English proper and responses. These proved troublesome and members of the choir expressed a preference for the Latin, which we then adopted, either those in the Graduale Romanum or simple psalm tone settings. By this time the choir leader had attended courses in Gregorian chant, including a week at Solemnes.

This was also the time when church renovation had become urgently necessary, and the opportunity was taken to re-order the sanctuary, with the altar being moved back as close as possible to its original position, whilst not preventing versus populum celebration. This was primarily to satisfy the requirements of the diocesan architectural committee, whose consent was necessary; by this stage, there was little enthusiasm in the parish for celebration in this configuration.

Attempts were made to establish a regular EF Mass. Fr Blake took, and still holds, the view that the parish was not yet ready for the celebration of the main Sunday High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, although some parishes have made the change successfully. A regular Sunday morning Low Mass at 9 am was poorly attended and was then shifted to 4 pm. The main Sunday High Mass is mostly in Latin, including the Proper, with hymns in the process of being phased out. It is well attended, and includes a families with children, who are asked to sit at the front where they engage their attention in what is happening and do not cause a disturbance, which had been a problem when they sat at the back of the church.

The EF Mass continues to be celebrated for the whole parish on special occasions – feast days, on the patron saint’s day, and also on the correct day when the feast has been officially transferred to the following Sunday; many people make a point of attending on the “proper” day. These Extraordinary Form are much appreciated by most people in the parish.

Perhaps the most important result of Summorum Pontificum, however, was the introduction of a weekly EF Mass on Friday evenings. This was followed by coffee and snacks, and a catechesis class. This innovation was been well supported and attracted a new and growing congregation of well educated young people, especially recent converts. There were two vocations from this group in 2012. Unfortunately, due to ill-health, Fr Blake was unable to continue with this, but it became for a while the parish’s principal means of evangelical outreach, an experience which must be of relevance at many parishes elsewhere with similar characteristics.

1 kommentar:

Pelerin sa...

Good to read your potted history of St Mary Magdalen's. I had no idea it had been threatened with closure. I first visited it in about 1960 when the wrought-iron altar rails were still in situ. I remember being somewhat surprised at the time when a lady inside offered me a sweet as I stood at the back marvelling at its beauty! It still is a friendly parish.

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