Monday 15 June 2009

Corpus Christi and then some....

There are some Holy Days which are ordered, under the newer directions, to be moved from their traditional mid-week position to the next Sunday. The Ascension is one such feast, and Corpus Christi is another. If I can, I like to attend both celebrations, just to make sure that I’ve really done the feast. This year, having attended no less than three celebrations, I feel as if I’ve really DONE Corpus Christi. I can’t help feeling that for the next week, my housemates will be asking me to refrain from belting out Sweet Sacrament Divine when I’m in the shower, and I might even be asked to spare innocent travellers on the Piccadilly line the higher notes of All for Jesus.

So, on Thursday I went along to All Saint’s, Margaret St, the original bastion of “High Church” (as far as Baptists and Methodists are concerned), for their wonderful yearly celebration. After a very dignified and solemn celebration of the Mass, the large numbers of pilgrims form a procession which winds its way down onto busy Oxford Street, before heading back to the church, where Benediction is given. Unfortunately this year, the police didn’t want to escort the procession down Oxford Street, as I remember happened last year, and so open competition for pavement space occurred between the procession and pedestrians. The preacher, Bishop of Ramsbury the Rt.Rev. Stephen Conway, gave a lovely sermon about something or other (my memory, not his preaching!) and the Mass was served by legions of children from All Saint’s, Notting Hill, who also served food at the reception afterwards.

Our celebration at S. Magnus was on the Sunday, where a Solemn Mass was offered, and a procession made up to the monument. This was the first outdoor procession of the Blessed Sacrament during my time at S. Magnus, and I will always remember the horrified looks of tourists at the monument, and the bemused stares of motorists on Lower Thames Street, as Our Lord is confidently carried over a pedestrian crossing on red! Pictures of this procession coming soon…

Yesterday evening then, I also went with a few others from S. Magnus to the Solemn Evensong and Procession at St. Mary’s, Bourne St. On entering the church, which I haven’t been to in some time, we were greeted with the sight of an immaculately arranged path of fragrant foliage for the procession, and an enormous green Baroque exposition throne in the Lady Chapel. The Solemn Evensong was very beautifully sung by Fr. Alasdair Coles and his choir, the congregation singing the Pange Lingua in English. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were by Byrd. The Salve Regina, directed to be sung by the choir, was enthusiastically taken up by the congregation, before Bishop Robert Ladds began his sermon. He made a very eloquent comparison of the box of precious ointment poured out by Mary onto Jesus’ head and the precious ointment of the Eucharist which is present in our Tabernacles, inviting us to “break” open the tabernacle more frequently to receive the outpouring of blessings available to us therein. We then sang two Eucharistic hymns while the clergy prepared for the procession, before belting out O salutaris hostia to the tune of Jerusalem. The procession stopped at the Lady Chapel and we sang Tantum Ergo, the versicle Panem de caelo with the collect sung by the vicar before Benediction was given. I have to say, this is the first time I have ever been to Benediction in an Anglican church sung entirely in Latin. The hymn Lauda Sion was picked up again for the procession back to the high altar, over the foliage, which smelled by this point like a Neal’s Yard Remedy. Benediction was given again by the Bishop, the divine praises said and Laudate Dominum omnes gentes with the Antiphon Adoremus insterted after each verse of the psalm. All in all, a real assault on the senses, but in every way a beautiful evening.

I returned home exhausted, not least because of the heat we had during the day. Such a beautiful weekend though, and I hope for many more summer weekends like this. After all the extravagant worship I’ve been involved in this weekend, what have I taken away? Well, I feel convinced that, as the Bishop said, our worship of God should be spontaneous, generous and expensive. We should never be cheap in giving ourselves to God, but rather offer the most expensive parts of ourselves to Him. Our yearly exercise in this kind of expensive worship is Corpus Christi, when we pour out our love and devotion to Christ, illuminate his shrine with hundreds of candles and shower Him with fragrant gifts. We do this because we are confident of his gift in return, something that we are unable to match: His eternal, boundless love for each and every one of us and his memorial of that ceaseless love, His Holy Eucharist.

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