Monday, 25 November 2013

St Michael and All Saints

High Mass for the Feast of Christ the King, Sunday 24 November 2013, 11am
Led by: a whole bunch of clergy and servers
Sermon by: Fr Malcolm Aldcroft

Last week I had a hankering for Bach. This week I got to hear O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht sung by the choir of St Michael and All Saints at probably the highest mass I’ve attended all year. If it’s smells and bells you’re after, St Michael and All Saints even eclipses the Tridentine Latin mass at St Margaret’s and St Leonard’s, and has the advantage of actually including the congregation by processing around and puffing everyone with incense. It doesn’t half stick in your nostrils, though. I could still smell it two hours later.

If the Anglican communion is a spectrum, this is the end at which it looks more Catholic than the Catholics, and to someone with such Presbyterian instincts as mine it’s an uncomfortable experience to witness the clergy bowing to a separate little Marian altar and singing Hail Mary, although this bit was after the mass itself was ended. Nor have I ever heard the Lord’s Prayer changed to include the blessed and ever glorious virgin Mary, the apostles Peter and Paul, Andrew of Scotland, Michael and all saints, but that’s what we got in this version of the 1970 Scottish Liturgy. Excuse me while I have another little Presbyterian shudder … eeurgh!

The mass was sung, led by a choir of ten, and an organist who scores top marks for sneaking a few motifs from Once in Royal David’s City into the tune of Crown Him with Many Crowns, as well as singing along to the prayers. As well as choir and organist, there were three clergy in gold and red vestments and six servers in black and white vestments, which is quite a high staff-public ratio considering there were only 37 in the congregation.

Slightly confusingly, although the gospel reading (cue bells and huddled clergy) was Luke 23:33-43 as advertised in the pew-sheet, the other readings were from Malachi 4 and 2 Thessalonians 3, and not Jeremiah 23 and Colossians 1 as in the sheet. No pew bibles were supplied.

The sermon was short and sweet; it has to be when there’s all that mass to get through. On this the Feast of Christ the King, we were asked to consider how a king or queen can be recognised without his/her crown on. One of the men crucified beside Jesus failed to recognise him, and indeed his majesty cannot be measured in human terms. Oh yes, and it was stir-up Sunday – last chance to do your Christmas baking.

Soul Searcher has not been baking. Soul Searcher’s mother, on the other hand, had her cake done a fortnight ago. I’m not sure if I believe in god, but there’s definitely such a thing as a domestic goddess and I’ve a long way to go to learn to bake like her. Maybe that’s another project for 2014.

There’s definitely something appealing about the Anglican mass, incense and Mariolatry aside, and I can see why some people like the ritual and rhythm and predictability of it. Nothing too challenging in the sermon, hymns that everyone knows, an hour and a quarter circumscribed by tradition and familiarity, but still not my cup of tea.

Mind you, I bumped into a friend at St Michael’s, and it’s only the fourth church this year where I’ve met someone I knew, so that’s two Anglican churches, a Free Church and a Free Church Continuing – the extremes of the whole high/low continuum. I keep thinking that the bumping-into-friends hit rate should be higher after fifty churches, but perhaps I just don’t know enough nice, godly people. 

Post-script, Tuesday 26 Nov: actually, now that I think about it, there are two other churches where I've met people I know, both Church of Scotland. That takes the hit rate up a bit, and balances the extremes. 

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