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Friday, 23 September 2011

Amusing God

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.


Maria Zannini said...

I have not heard a Mass in Latin in decades. Of course, it might help if I went to church once in a while.

I actually liked hearing the Mass in Latin. Plus it taught me a third language.

Mike Keyton said...

I liked the old latin mass, too, when it was unadorned. Even as a child I had a glimmer of understanding and the rhythm and cadence allowed my to drift in my own world of prayer. It's the layers and layers of ritual, the visual distractions, the performance, I find distracting. I'm watching a show put on my somebody else for God.

Shirley Wells said...

Put me in a church and I'm usually daydreaming about the splendour of the building and the lives of those who designed and built it.

I was fascinated by the only mass in Latin I ever attended. I loved everything about it. And yes, one thing that stands out in my memory is the asthmatics dropping like flies.

Mike Keyton said...

Put me in a church and I'm usually daydreaming about the splendour of the building and the lives of those who designed and built it. Not true of most of the modern churches that could slip unobtrusively into suburbia:( What always gets me is not so much the external decorative flourishes - though I'm a sucker for teh visual (Catholic upbringing) but that more intangible atmosphere some churches have more than others.

Claudia Del Balso said...

AH, the interior of the Oratory seems exquisite. For some reason it reminds me of St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, DC :)
I, too, have attended High Mass, including an amazing choir; very solemn. I really enjoyed it even though I didn't understand a word since it was in Latin ;)

Mike Keyton said...

Claudia, it is very beautiful inside, but perhaps best appreciated alone and in prayer rather than a speck in a spectacle.

Misha Gerrick said...

I've never been to mass, as I'm protestant, but I've always been intrigued by it.


Mike Keyton said...

Different beanpoles pointing in the same direction, Misha :)

nikki broadwell said...

Hi Mike,
I never know whether to respond to your comments on my blog or on yours! thanks for good wishes and I'm sure we will fly over Wales-I'm Welsh on my father's side--Pugh is my maiden name--anyway, we are headed to Germany, southern France and Brittany on this trip..
My husband and I have made several trips to Wales where I see my father's face wherever I go! I noticed that Gaelic is making a comeback but that was several years ago....your blog is informative and interesting and I love the pictures!

Mike Keyton said...

You're heading for some beautiful country. You're going to have a ball