The Liturgy is the lifeblood of the Church. To be Catholic means to go to Mass, to do Catholic things, and Liturgy is the action of Christ in Head and members. Therefore it is always good to experience the breadth of the Church’s liturgical life, for in so doing we experience at first hand the Catholic nature of the Church. I remember with great fondness going to the Armenian Catholic Mass at St Nicholas of Tolentino in Rome – a truly magnificent occasion, with some of the most haunting chant I have ever heard. The same was true of Vespers at the Greek College in Via del Babuino, and the Russicum across the square from Saint Mary Major’s. Rome is greatly blessed in that it affords one the chance to witness not just the breadth but also depth of Catholic liturgy, of both Western and Eastern traditions.
Here in England, we are blessed with a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral in Mayfair as well as other Eastern Catholic churches around the country. We have recently been blessed with the appointment of a Syro-Malabar Rite bishop with his seat in Preston, Lancashire. So it is possible to witness Eastern Catholic liturgy. But, at the same time, let us not forget the glories of Western liturgy, too often obscured, but now made perhaps more accessible by the coming of the Ordinariate.
On Saturday, September 23, the day before the Patronal feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Ordinariate festival took place in Westminster and I was lucky enough to be at the Ordinariate Mass, celebrated by the Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton. The Ordinariate Use Mass (it is not a rite as such) uses some of Cranmer’s prayers, such as the Prayer of Humble Access. While I was not brought up on these prayers, I can appreciate their beauty of language and their theological weight. What struck me the more, however, was the Cranmerian translation of the Magnificat, which was sung after the first reading. It was truly beautiful and moving. In addition to this we had some very lovely and dignified hymns which were all completely new to me, even though I had assumed, erroneously, that I knew all the Marian hymns. One was “Joy to thee Queen”, a lovely hymn to Our Lady of Walsingham; another was “Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born” which was written by Thomas Ken, one of Charles II’s bishops. The music is by Henry Laws, the composer who collaborated with Milton on the masque Comus. I was greatly surprised by the thought that anyone was writing Marian hymns in the reign of Charles II.
The collect for Our Lady of Walsingham in the Ordinariate use is markedly different to that of the Roman Missal, and goes like this:
“O God, who, through the mystery of the Word made flesh, didst in thy mercy sanctify the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary: do thou grant that we may keep aloof from the tabernacle of sinners, and become worthy indwellers in thy house, through Jesus Christ thy Son Our Lord….”
Who indeed shall be admitted to thy tent, O Lord, as the psalmist asks in psalm 15? There is much Biblical richness in this short and to the point prayer, and it is anchored firmly in the Holy Houses of Loreto and Walsingham, as well as in the first chapter of Saint John’s gospel.
My recommendation to all is to get to Westminster Cathedral next year for the Ordinariate Festival. Their Liturgy is a gift to the whole Church.