Friday, 23 September 2011
Somewhere in the land of Oswaldtwistle, Grimshaw and Ramsbottom lies St. Joseph's Church, founded in 1884. It is the highest parish in the Liverpool Archdiocese, standing 750 feet above sea level, and within sight of Darwen Tower, Withnell Moor, Belmont Moor, Great Hill, and Winter Hill. It also had an idiosyncratic priest whose sermons every Sunday centred upon the history of Brinscall.
We dropped in twice yearly whenever we visited my brother and settled down to another instalment of Brinscall through the ages. He spoke in a soft mumble that would put a sheep to sleep and took us through the glories of Brinscall through the medieval period. I think we got as far as the Tudors before my brother moved and Brinscall was lost to us forever. I like to think he retired before he reached the twentieth century and woke up.
St Aloysius Gonzaga, more popularly known as the Oratory is an entirely different kettle of choirboys. This church is squeezed in between a hospital and a hairdressers on Oxford’s Woodstock Road. It faces a row of small houses and a Chinese restaurant.
On this occasion I attended a High Mass in Latin, a dreamy spectacle if you were in the mood, a mechanical opera if you weren’t. I was particularly struck by the caped priests and the alter servers who, on several occasions, appeared to be line-dancing to the baroque choral music descending from somewhere behind me. They walked in line, like sacerdotal chorus girls. They walked in unison and with great earnestness like a slow moving windscreen wiper across the alter steps, each swinging a censer until the alter itself faded in a dense haze of incense; and asthmatics dropped like flies all around me.
At least you could listen to and watch the event, though perhaps not pray. Still, it wasn’t boring. Neither was the small church in the Lake District whose organist must have had a summer job in a seaside resort, playing at the end of the pier. Every hymn began and ended with a twirl or a flourish so that you didn’t know whether to sing or waltz down the aisle.
Then there are the terrible priests where you want to march down the aisle with a tumbrel, but that might be another post.