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Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Wonders of Walsingham

The last time that I had assisted at an Anglican-Use Mass was back in the mid-1990s, during my days as a legislative employee at the Texas Capitol.  I would occasionally attend the Anglican-Use Mass at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish.  It was beautiful, reverent and a liturgical oasis. 

When His Emincence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo welcomed us during the Society for Catholic Liturgy Conference dinner, he invited us to experience one of the five different rites in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.   One of the options that leapt out at me right away was the Anglican-Use Mass at Our Lady of Walsingham.  I decided that I would go to Mass there on Sunday.

I wound up heading to Our Lady of Walsingham a little earlier than I had expected.  I accompanied a small group from the conference on Saturday evening to assist at a Mass that would take place after the parish's regular Saturday evening liturgy.  When we walked into Our Lady of Walsingham, I was immediately struck with the beauty of the church.  Immediately, as one enters the building through the front entrance, the first thing one sees is a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. 

It was just the beginning.   Since we were there early, our gracious hostess led us up to the choir loft so that we could get a better view.  We came in during the homily, which was being preached by the deacon.  The noble simplicity of the church really made an impact on me.  It was as though I were transported back in time to medieval England.   The organ repertoire had a Westminister feel to it.  Our hostess quietly explained that this was the "low" Mass and that tomorrow would be the "high" one.  The priest I was accompanying guided me through the rubrics (I had forgotten a few things).  We knelt throughout the entire Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The only time that the faithful stood was to walk to the communion rail in order to receive Holy Communion by intinction. 

After Mass, we got to walk around the church a bit.  It was really beautiful.  Here is a close-up picture of the altar:

Given that our Mass would begin very soon, I did not get a chance to further explore the church.  That would have to wait until Sunday.  (For my report on the Saturday Mass, please see the blog post "An Unexpected Privileged Moment of Grace").

Sunday morning was dreary, rainy and cold.  However, I was able to make it to Our Lady of Walsingham with plenty of time to spare. I happened to find some other members of the conference who decided to also go to Mass there.  Our hostess from last night was certainly right.  The 10:30AM Mass was the "high" one.  The music was incredible.  The introit was in Latin and the hymns were in English.  Even though the settings for the parts of the Mass were initially unfamiliar, they were easy to sing.  To my joyful surprise, everyone sang.

The liturgy itself was solemn, beautiful and majestic.  The smell of the incense wafting from the thurible permeated the whole building.  It was indeed very conducive to prayer.  I was happy that my new priest friend walked me through the liturgy the night before so that I did not appear too lost.  Even though I had been to this particular kind of liturgy a decade ago, there were some variances in that there was lots of singing and I did not recall having to kneel for the entire Liturgy of the Eucharist (not that this is a bad thing, mind you). 

The language of the prayers was beautiful.  It made me all the more anxious for the day when our own Mass will have nearly the same elevated language.   The prayer that both the celebrant and the faithful recite prior to receiving Holy Communion is something that I now say on my own (our hostess graciously let me keep the paper-bound prayer book).  Here it is:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.  We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under thy Table.  But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.  Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of they dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.  Amen.

The triple "Domine non sum dignus" was prayed in English, using language that is quite similar to what we will be saying after November 26, 2011. 

After Communion, the celebrant and the faithful prayed a beautiful prayer, thanking God for the gift of Himself in Holy Communion.  I have also made this prayer my own and use it after I have received Holy Communion.  Here it is:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ; and doest assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us, and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom.  And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end.  Amen.

The Holy Father wrote of mutual enrichment when he issued his Motu Propio liberalizing the use of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  Perhaps the same concept of "mutual enrichment" could apply between the Anglican-Use Mass and the Ordinary Form.  While the language in the revised translation of the Roman Missal will certainly be more sacral, something that the Ordinary Form could certainly borrow from the Anglican-Use liturgy is the quality of the music used for the Mass and the intensive solemnity of this particular form. 

I suppose that it was no accident that the Mass in the Extraordinary Form that I had experienced Saturday evening was sandwiched in between the beauty of the Mass in the Ordinary Form that I assisted at on Friday with Cardinal DiNardo and the nobility of Sunday's Anglican-Use liturgy.  The Extraordinary Form was majesty in its purist form with a deep sense of prayer.  The Anglican-Use, which is, in my opinion, the English-language version of the Extraordinary Form, was a fitting conclusion to my weekend in Houston.


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