Thursday, December 01, 2011

Magic in the Mass?

I've just been at a Roman Catholic mass for the first time in about 20 years. It wasn't your normal mass - it was the priest's Silver Jubilee and the church was packed, even on a hellish evening when the wind threatened to tear the car door from my hand and maybe take the hand with it ...

But that's enough of the gruesome maunderings. It wasn't just the local faithful who turned out in number - there was a great group of clergy (including two familiar from Island Parish on the telly) and the bishop and friends and family and former flock, all crammed into a church that by the end of the evening was so hot that the woman in front of me sank to her knees not in a moment of extreme piety but to avoid passing out. Before the mass, we were given a quick run-through of the bits of the music that might be unfamiliar, though in truth only one hymn was known to me and I was reduced, in the absence of any music, to a feeble twittering.

But what chiefly interested me was the completely different atmosphere from what I'm accustomed to. (And no, I don't just mean the heat.) The extreme rapidity of proceedings - responses hardly out of your mouth before we were off again - the matter-of-fact tones used by all the clergy, bishop included, and the music which in its banality defied any attempt at aural learning. The women in front of me who chatted at intervals throughout the proceedings, regardless of what was happening. And the new liturgy, introduced, I believe, only last week, was extraordinarily like what we have in our 1970 Grey Book, but with confusing details that caught this unwary Piskie out. But why, in the name of all that's holy (and I mean that) do they talk about Jesus taking the "chalice" at the Last Supper? Would it be likely that the vessel used then, as opposed to what it held, would have been accorded reverence at that moment? I'd be interested to know the thinking there.

Above all, I felt the sense of ... confidence. This is a church that still behaves as if Christian faith is the norm, and church attendance even more so. It spills over into demeanour, voices, physical attitudes. It is very unlike what I know and love in my own precarious little church. And what worries interests me is that I would no more have been attracted by it than I was by its opposite number in Scotland. There's no magic.

And I need the magic.


  1. I'm with you! I always think one of the most important things missing in worship of all flavours is mystery. When we become too comfortable, too used to how it's done, that sense of wonder disappears. That can never be a good thing.

  2. The "chalice" is a literal rendering of the Latin of the Roman Canon:

    "Simili modo, postquam cenatum est, accipiens et hunc praeclarum calicem in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas, item tibi gratias agens benedixit, deditque discipulis suis, dicens: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes: hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Hoc facite in meam commemorationem"

    Liturgical back to the future?

  3. I ended my reading of this smiling broadly, Christine, as I know so exactly what you mean. When I was first exploring the Christian faith as an adult I went to our local RC church and found exactly what you describe and that was 35 years ago. Lovely people but it was all so banal and matter of fact. Mystery is at the heart of faith for me, otherwise God becomes too small.

  4. Dougal, I know it's the Latin - or the Greek - but I don't see the point of using a word with deliberately archaic and liturgical conntations in that context; it sticks out like the proverbial thumb.
    Perpetua, I too came to explore Christianity as an adult, but was lucky enough to do it in the surroundings of the Episcopal church - and in a very special bit of it, here in Argyll.

  5. Maybe - at a total guess - you're meant to think "cup... the object that will become known as a chalice" and that timewarp will either take you back to the upper room or bring Christ forward now - bearing in mind that "to make Christ present" is the job of Communion?

  6. I think the point (not my personal one) is that by moving back to "chalice" and a way from "cup" they are moving to recover some of the mystery that was lost in the liturgical excesses post Vatican 2. Mince, frankly, as all you have to do is face east and follow the direction in Ritual notes and you has the mystery. Oh and avoid twee music like Margaret Rizza :-)