Monday, October 29, 2007

The Fraternity of St Peter in Reading, England

Readers may be interested to know how the Fraternity of St Peter are getting on in England. They have had a presence here for quite a few years, and there have been some recent developments.

The Institute of Christ the King also has a toe-hold in England, in the form of Fr William Hudson; every now and then I hear good things about his work: please say a prayer for their attempts to save two different historic Catholic churches (and here) But for a proper report Shawn Tribe will have to recruit a contributor from the North-East of England. North American readers may laugh, but the North-East might as well be on another planet from the point of view of someone living in the Midlands. We are very parochial here.

The FSSP, on the other hand, say Mass just down the road from us in Reading, and we often attend Mass there. Their two priests in England (there is another in Edinburgh, Scotland), Fr Nicholas du Chaxel and Fr Benjamin Durham, live in London, but they also commute to look after the Traditionalist community in Reading. This is sufficiently established to be almost a parallel parish; it includes not just Sunday Mass, but Holy Days, Mass and catechesis on First Saturdays (organised by the Traditional Catholic Family Alliance), a fortnightly home-schooling group, and prayer groups. Just before the Motu Proprio came out they acquired another important apostolate, when a monthly Mass in Bedford was turned into a weekly one, to be served by them. The Mass in Reading and the Mass in Bedford are both at 12noon, so each Sunday they have to go in different directions.

Another development is in Reading. For three years the Fraternity priests said Mass in the Church of Christ the King, in the southern part of Reading, thanks to the hospitality and support of the parish priest, Fr Gerald Flynn. Indeed, Fr Flynn’s name should go down in legend and song among Traditionalists in England, for while not saying the Traditional Mass himself, his positive attitude was key to their securing the necessary permissions not only from Bishop Hollis of Portsmoth, but also Bishop Doyle of Northhampton, when the latter was considering the question of Bedford. Fr Flynn even wrote a letter to The Tablet about his experience of playing host to a Traditional Mass community, in answer to a rather negative letter about such groups from another priest. The recent development arises from Fr Flynn’s being moved from Christ the King to a parish on the Isle of Wight; for reasons best known to himself, his successor as Parish Priest wanted the Traditional Mass to move to another parish, and indeed helped the community to find an under-used church in a nearby two-church parish, St William of York.

The Church of Christ the King is not a thing of great beauty; St William of York (see picture) is not a church to make a large detour to see either. Its classical proportions have been spoiled by a massive, angled transept on one side, which can be closed off with folding doors to form a parish hall. Mass can only be said ad orientem by the addition of removable wooden steps, rapidly made up by a member of the congregation. The confessional at the back has been turned into a ‘crying room’ for mothers and babies, separated from the nave with a plate glass window. Not counting the transept it is less than half the size of Christ the King, with a correspondingly smaller car park and hall. On the other hand, it is much less heavily used by the parish, which should make it easier for the Fraternity to time services, especially over the Easter Triduum.

God moves in mysterious ways; since moving to St William of York the congregation has increased considerably. Sunday congregations were formerly between fifty and sixty (a similar number to the 8am Traditional Mass in Oxford); yesterday, which was sung, there were at least a hundred people. The transept was closed off, but the church was packed; the crying room was bursting, there was a crowd standing at the back and of course there were more people in the choir loft. I can only assume that St William of York’s more central location is part of the reason for this; it is also on the edge of the University campus.

I joined the schola for Mass, which of course was the Feast of Christ the King. A monthly Sung Mass has long been a feature of the Fraternity Masses in Reading, and I try to join them from Oxford; another singer comes from St Albans, and others from different places in between. The same arrangement has worked for the last two Easter Triduums in Reading. This limits the amount of practicing we can do together, but I thought that yesterday, with five singers, we did pretty well in the circumstances.

I tried out a new toy, a cheap camcorder, and readers can see the results, and judge the quality of the chant for themselves. The first video is long, more than 8 minutes, and it includes the Gradual and Alleluia and also the Gospel sung by Fr du Chaxel. At the end, you will see that Fr du Chaxel takes off not only his maniple but also his chasuble to preach, a custom I rather like, emphasising that the liturgy has been suspended.

The second video shows the consecration. Fr du Chaxel maintains the custom of the extra candle, lit at the start of the canon and extinguished after the communion of the faithful. However, on this occasion the altar boy with the task of lighting it clearly forgot to do so.

The third video shows a custom which will certainly by unfamiliar to American readers, the singing of a prayer for Queen Elizabeth. The Domine salvum fac is sung at the end of Traditional Sung Mass on Sundays in countries with a Catholic monarch; by a special indult, English Catholics got permission to sing it for their Anglican sovereign. That they sought such permission speaks volumes for the often unrequited affection English Catholics have for the monarchy, and our efforts to counter Protestant propaganda about our ‘divided loyalty’. The prayer, with its Gregorian Chant setting, and the name either of Elizabeth or her father George, is printed in the unabridged version of Plainsong for Schools. Like the customs specific to England and Wales in the Marriage Service, the English bishops failed to preserve this custom when the 1970 missal was introduced.

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