Friday, June 24, 2011

Who's Corpus Christi?

Bit slow off the mark, I'm afraid, as a visit to Glasgow for a service in the evening involves The Last Ferry and a rather late night. But I've just been reading the authoritative report of last evening's proceedings in St Mary's Cathedral and feel moved to make my own.

I've been to only one other celebration of Corpus Christi in my day - perhaps 15 years ago now, when Dale Grey was the Warden at Cumbrae and laid on a joyous service with a visiting choir (not one I was in) and a procession round the grounds of the Cathedral there. I had some idea of what to expect in the way of ceremony and I knew there would be rose petals, but I had no notion of how I might react. This is how it feels now:

I have a renewed appreciation of the power of ritual. When ritual is beautifully done, with conviction and authority and no attempt to make it ordinary or contemporary, it is capable of sweeping the participants into its self-forgetting rhythm. This is what happened. The sacrament was there in the monstrance (left) and was paraded round the church in a procession of incense (from two thuribles!) preceded by a rain of rose petals from an ever-replenished basin (there are more photos on Kelvin's blog on the link above). And as it passed we turned, like subjects of old, so as to have our eyes always on the monstrance and what it contained. Suddenly it became real, in the sense that we talk, as Kelvin did, about the Real Presence: I knew that in that circle of gold there was a wafer of unleavened bread, but when it passed me I bowed low - not once, but three times, each time it passed. That felt right. I didn't have to think about it.

We encountered here the power of symbolism - and symbolism that was appropriate and in-your-face and glorious. Usually I worship in relatively modern English, sing everything in sight, strain to hear all that is said above the noise of Godly Play, and know everyone around me. Last night's Mass was sung by a choir, in Latin; there was silence (apart from the traffic in Great Western Road) and there was glorious, thundering organ music that came reverberating through the soles of our feet, there was the all-pervading scent of the incense and I knew about three people and the celebrant. It was strange and it was exotic; it was liberating and funny and it was joyful; it was - or seemed to be - completely assured and unselfconscious.

Guess that's the key, really: unselfconsciousness. We can't be self-conscious and embarrassed, we mustn't feel we always have to justify our joyful eccentricities, we can't be apologetic Christians all the time or we've had it. Kevin introduced what was about to happen with a small joke: someone had asked "Who's this Corpus Christi that you're celebrating?" His last words at the end of the service reminded us of this question. Who is this Corpus Christi?

And the answer? It's us. Wow.

Note: There's a whole set of photos here.

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