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Archive for the ‘Worship and liturgy’ Category

Following the publication of Amoris Laetitia, the Roman Catholic Church is still it seems divided over the matter of divorced persons receiving Communion, something that was being discussed by Anglican theologians fifty years ago.  So it’s heartening to see a different, positive take on it in, of all places, the letters page of the Catholic Herald (31 March 2017) and from a nun at that.  A Sister Mairead Murphy writes: “Holy Communion is not a reward for the good and faithful, it is food for our journey.  Food and nourishment for all God’s people. So if Pope Francis wants to do some more ‘loosing'[in the spirit of Matt 18:18], to demonstrate God’s love, tenderness and mercy for his people, I say ‘bring it on.'”  Amen to that, Sister.

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I seem to have spent a lot of time recently thinking online about God (or that which we call “God”), rereading all my old theology books, or searching the web for others’ testimony or speculations, or simply thinking things through.  Why is this, and why now?  What am I trying to achieve? (more…)

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Victorian sentimentality still pervades the Church of England, never more so than at Christmastide.  Sometimes the imagery threatens to overwhelm the message, or even common sense, and collides with itself.  A good example of trying to get both feet into the same sock is presented by two much-loved Christmas carols.  Away in a manger coos over “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”, while Once in Royal David’s City assures us that, through out his childhood, “tears and smiles like us he knew.” Which is the soppiest?

Anglican hymnody is full of such clunkers (rhyming ‘God’ with ‘sod’, for example) but it is often difficult to sacrifice the whole hymn just because part of it refers to some obsolete belief, is written in arcane language or is just plain ridiculous.  Hymns have a long shelf life. We treasure them still, because they still – just – get away with it.  Victorian sentimentality gets us over the difficult bits.

It’s not really a big problem, not least because this Christmas, our local church choir here in Hanslope is booked to sing carols in a local pub and no-one there will think any the less of us if we merrily trill “Seraph quire singeth, angel bell ringeth” over the real ales.  We’ll all be part of a joint, gladsome conspiracy to suspend our disbelief, for once, and genial bewilderment at some of the expressions used.  Hey, it’s Christmas!

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On Sunday we attended the first communion mass for the daughter of a friend, in an RC church in one of Milton Keynes’ 77 neighbourhoods.  Like every other Roman Catholic mass we have attended recently, this one took place in a modern building designed in Brutalist style – plate glass everywhere, light-coloured conference centre-type wooden furnishings, exposed beams, painted concrete – lifting up a single enormous skylight bathing the whole interior in natural light.

All the usual depressing details of the decorative mis-en-scène of the church today are present: Stations of the Cross in sub-Gill semi-cartoon format, Sunday school murals and, suspended above the free-standing altar, a modernistic but faceless (!) depiction of the Risen Christ.  The music is all evangelical songbook ditties – folksy tunes you can’t get out of your head, banal words, guitar accompaniment.  The flow of the service, too, as I have seen elsewhere, seems all too provisional, improvisational, laid back: unexpectedly, disturbingly unserious.

It’s not helped by being subject to numerous sotto voce asides from the priest himself.  Their purpose seems to be to reassure all those present that what we are collectively involved with here is a temporary suspension of normal behaviour in order to accommodate the outlandish, scarcely credible demands of the eucharistic liturgy before we can return to normal daily life.  Its effect is that of a let’s-get-this-over-with lack of any profundity of thought or intensity of experience.

Except for the communion in both kinds (when did that happen?), the questionable aspects of modern Catholic worship – at least, from an Anglican perspective – are on full display.  Confusion in the sanctuary; gabbling of the text; the constant feeling of routine.

Queuing to receive communion, one after the other down the line, is oxymoronic; we should be in it all together, instead of participating in an individual, semi-automatic box-tick proceeding.  Where is the majesty, the quiet engagement, the sense of bringing the burden of our sins to rest upon the altar?  Where is the quality in this routine enactment?  Where is the mystery? Where is the feeling of God Shared?

What goes on in church, especially at the altar rail, is supposed to elevate us, or bring us up short.  If the Roman church itself fails in this duty, what is the point?

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Anointing DavidIn the BBC’s copious coverage of the 60th anniversary of the last coronation at Westminster, back in June, there was a note of special pleading.  I think that the issue it raises is an important and a contentious one which should be dealt with now, before the next coronation. (more…)

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adoration-of-the-magi-1The Pope’s recent contribution to the demythologisation of Christmas strikes me as being merely the latest in the church’s never-ending campaign to get us to pay more religious attention to Easter and less to the Nativity event.  (more…)

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Hanslope Church

Hanslope Church

Every year at about this time, Easter, the media strike up the band with some old favourites:  the church is dying, it’s irrelevant to people’s lives and concerns, churches are empty, clergy mouth platitudes or are too wet.  It’s a seductive old tune.  But is it true?

Casting my mind back 20 – 30 years, I recall a time when the following things were true for the church in England: cold and empty churches; the services still held in 1662 language, with silly Victorian hymns; Anglican participants in an ecumenical gathering being told that they could not share in the Catholic’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer; all priests were male and the idea of there ever being a non-white  bishop, let alone archbishop, preposterous; the Dean of Winchester – one of the last to be seen dressed in gaiters – saying that there was a Christian case for nuclear weapons; narrow-minded interpretations of salvation and threats of damnation; an air of hopelessness and decay.

Now we have increasing numbers: standing room only in Catholic churches in West London as Polish residents flock to mass; a galaxy of Afro-Caribbean churches seemingly in every town; the present Archbishop of York from Uganda; the next Archbishop of Canterbury being chosen by the church, not the government; a canon of St Pauls Cathedral warning the police not to break up the protestors camping on its steps; the other archbishop cutting up his dog-collar on TV;  church schools oversubscribed; services in contemporary language; women priests, though not yet bishops; Thought for the Day regularly explaining Hinduism; the spread of purpose-built mosques; the television series Rev; the crucifixion re-enacted in cities in the UK; to my certain knowledge, at least one gay bishop in England and a gay Dean (what of it?); the New Atheism failing to find traction in our community so far.

Tonight we go and share the Easter Mass with our fellow congregants in a country church (pictured), and see that there are more of them than 20 years ago, and of all ages.  Our mass will be participatory, and moving.

No, I don’t think the church is fading.  It’s actually being reborn.  That’s a good feeling to have at Easter, when we celebrate renewal and resurrection into new life.  God bless us all.

Happy Easter

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