Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Evesham: A Wonderful Solemn High Mass

Thank you so much to the priests, the servers and the splendid choir for a wonderful Solemn High Mass yesterday evening at the church of St Mary and St Egwin in Evesham.

If you are in that part of Worcestershire, do visit the attractive little town of Evesham, and the fine old Catholic church on the High Street. The interior appears to have been very little affected by the post-Vatican II changes. The altar rails remain. A freestanding altar has been installed in front of the high altar; it is built of stone, of a similar design to the high altar, and is at a lower level. There is enough space beween the two to allow for the offering of Solemn High Mass at the upper altar. There is a beautiful reredos behind the main altar and behind each of the side altars; these two being hinged altarpieces or tryptychs. All were inset with lovely paintings.

We arrived about half an hour before the start of Mass, which allowed me enough time to follow the Stations of the Cross. They were startlingly vivid and affecting, painted in a style which made me think of continental Europe in the late Middle Ages. As I progressed from one Station to another, it was genuinely upsetting to see the face of Christ showing increasing evidence of His pain and suffering. It was a remarkable experience.

The Mass itself was so absorbing that I quite forgot about the intervening altar. When I was not watching the proceedings I was praying the prayers in my book, as were many others in theirs, no doubt; and the choir was singing and responding (joined at times by the congregation), and there was a general profusion of participatio actuosa: a tremendous sense of all of us being united with the priest who was making present this greatest Work of all.

Since the Mass was offered in celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the choir sang the Ave Maria during the Offertory. I find some musical settings of the prayer too syrupy; but they chose the setting by Jacobus (or Jacques) Arcadelt, a version which seems to combine stirring power with calm dignity and serenity. It was beautifully done, and I found myself moved to tears.

The church was well on the way to being full. It must have been a real joy to the priests and to all those involved who had put in such sterlng work, to have so many present for this happy occasion. Very well done!