Midnight Mass is always a ‘must’ for Christmas for me, and before I go any further I have to confess that before I moved to Swindon I used to attend an Anglican Church in Southampton, the early morning service was traditional but not what I would class as ‘High Church’ and a fairly evangelical service mid-morning, both had their strengths and were good, the point here is to say I know my way around the Book of Common Prayer, and love it!
The church I attended Christmas Eve was Anglican, so I should have been fairly comfortable, to be quite honest I had never set foot in the place, but St Marks was on the way home from work; the path was nicely decorated with paper lanterns, so someone had given some thought to the evening, walking into the church was the first shock! I have been to ‘High Church’ before but I was not prepared for the almost Catholic iconography, the ‘Stations of the Cross’ and the big statues of the Virgin Mary (fairly appropriate I guess) all dating from the 1850’s though looking fairly 1930’s to be honest – I knew I was going to be uncomfortable from the start!
It was interesting to hear comments from the ‘Greeters’ that they had not expected these numbers, the church was about 75% full, and were quickly asking people to share the ‘Order of Service’ – which again was fairly Catholic in design.
The service was lovely, full of hidden meaning which I thought was pretty self-defeating as Church, as I understand, has a function to bring the people nearer to God; one of the ‘design features’ as I remember was that the ‘Altar’ or ‘Holy of Holies’ is exposed so that the Congregation are admitted to the sanctification of the elements, but it seems that in a retrograde move over the past 2000 years the Church has sought to mystify the process again.
After a couple of processions with the incense the Gospel was proclaimed, one of the wonderful traditions at this part of service I love, and can access, is that congregation turns around to face the Gospel being read, as the Bible is brought into the midst of the Congregation, and then back to the mysticism and incense. I suppose to an extent the mysticism is what is the ‘crowd puller’ on Christmas Eve, but then again I wonder what happens for the next 364 days?
Certain elements, as I said, I could access, the Gospel, the prayers for ‘Jonathan our Bishop’, the sick, and more importantly ‘the Peace’ but all in all the focus of the evening – I assume – the Communion was not accessible, I did not feel I could take Communion simply because I was distracted and felt over awed by the ceremony and gold braid. I cannot help but wonder at services like this how Jesus (you know the bloke whose birthday we are supposed to be celebrating) would have felt in the service, or how he would have conducted the service (I guess he wouldn’t have been able to become a Priest as he did not have enough qualifications, rather like the Apostles really).
Don’t misunderstand me I love the Anglican Communion, like the Labour Party it is a broad ‘church’ – where the Labour Party had Clause 4 to coalesce around the Anglican Church has the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds as the touchstones (there is the Athanasian Creed but this one does my head in, it’s all about the Trinity and is fairly existential to me), I love the service because it makes the congregation join in and be a part of the service, and not just a passive observer or unpaid Choir.
The only question I ask is how accessible the Church is and do I want to go back this afternoon, or next week?
Peace be with you