"At the beginning of April I went on my annual visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The week before I participated in the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC). This is the priests' society that I belong to. Before coming to All Saints' I was the Australian Provincial Master, & had assisted in the planning of this significant event.
Instead of writing a report on that week, I have, with permission, reproduced an edited version of the travelogue written by Fr Stephen Power's, Rector of St Bride's, Virginia Beach. Fr Stephen - a former member of our parish - writes through American eyes with an enthusiasm that is infectious. Enjoy!"
Travelogue written by Fr Stephen Power's, Rector of St Bride's, Virginia Beach
Monday April 4th: The Feast of the Annunciation - Arrival in London
In the evening, Fr Tony Noble led us to High Mass at the Church of the Annunciation, Marble Arch. Annunciation is a venerable old Catholic parish that has fallen on hard times. It has been "taken over" by All Saints', Margaret Street, which now supplies clergy to and controls Annunciation. I was to find out that All Saints' had an Anglo-Catholic foundation, but is no longer considered "safe", as it is more "Affirming" Catholic than Anglo-Catholic. Affirming Catholic is a phenomenon we have in this country, except that we don't have a name to distinguish it from authentic Catholicism. Affirming Catholics generally are those Anglo-Catholics who have gone liberal in their theology. So, whilst they like vestments, incense and High Mass, they have adopted theological innovations such as women priests and bishops, gay unions and ordinations, and often aren't quite sure of the full divinity of Jesus. I call it Unitarianism with Liturgy.
Still, it was a splendid Mass (Roman rite, not BCP!). And, it was nice to enjoy a major feast day with a High Mass. After was a reception in the Crypt with lots of wine and finger food. No one needed to go out to eat that night!
After a leisurely "full English Breakfast", the brothers and I got our packets of registration. I met many priest friends from my years in the Church and in the Society, and we had a great time of it, chatting and getting caught up. They say that Anglicanism is "relational"; that is that our faith is not a series of abstract, theological notions, but a living faith practiced with our fellow believers. Nowhere more true than in that eminent Catholic society in Anglicanism: the SSC. No matter how long it has been, I enjoyed seeing my brother priests, who are just as committed as I am to the Catholic renewal in Anglicanism.
We walked to S. Alban's the Martyr, Holborn. Just as well, as it is likely to be the only good weather day all week. S. Alban's is the first "free" church in all of London; it didn't rely upon pew rents for her revenue, thus all the poor in the surrounding slums could come for free. This is the parish of Fathers Mackonoochie and Stanton; literal saints of the Catholic Revival. They are both buried in the Church.
It's hard to describe S. Alban's. One enters it only from the sides. The Church is built up on all sides with other buildings. This is the Church that was bombed out by the Nazi fire bombing of London. The West end, where is the Altar and Sanctuary, was rebuilt, but in 1950s style. The painted reredos are initially off-putting, but I grew to like them. They are 1950s modern, painted by a German Jew whom, on his completion, converted to Christianity.
The liturgies were wonderful, rich and full. At the blessing by a true relic of the Holy Cross, I was stunned into awe and worship. In my own spiritual pilgrimage, I realized how superficially I have regarded the Holy Cross of our Lord, despite all my previous attention to it. I realized that, for the remainder of my life and priesthood, I must concentrate my prayers, devotion and priesthood to this most central aspects of our Faith. I haven't begun to understand the Holy Cross, and what Jesus did for me, and for you. However, I intend to understand more.
Speaking of worship, we had about 500+ priests present. The acoustics were excellent. And, you haven't lived until you've heard 500 male voices belting out the great hymns of the Church (some of which I'm unfamiliar, but will be bringing home to S. Bride's), with a pipe organ and organist that matches the crowd. The reverberations were palpable, and he needed to pause a good length between verses of the hymn, so to let the echo subside, so we could continue. At several points, the sound in my ears began to distort, as if I were front stage at a loud rock concert, signifying that the volume was at the distortion level. Imagine that level of volume with just an organ and 500 voices!
As a part of the events, we sent a message of condolence to the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, expressing our sadness and regret at the death of Pope John Paul II. He was to be in our thoughts and prayers frequently through the week. In fact, the Cardinal was to have addressed us on Thursday night, but had to beg off, as he was expected at the Vatican.
After addresses, Benediction and Solemn Mass, we repaired to a huge banqueting hall, where we had a most splendid dinner of roast breast of duck in brandy & orange sauce. Dessert was grapes & stilton & cheddar cheeses (not cheesecake!). This was followed by toasts to the Queen and the Society. A most festive day; far too much food and drink and worship and glory and thoughts to ponder. I am very encouraged. This is a splendid time in which to be a Catholic Anglican, despite all the nonsense in our Diocese, our American Province and in Anglicanism at large.
Wednesday: The Conference begins.
Logan Hall, the University of London (fortunately, directly across the street from the hotel)
The Conference portion actually began today. Morning Prayer, Mass and Evensong were all done at the Catholic Apostolic Church. This was a group of Anglicans who, in the 1850s, broke with Anglicanism to found their own Church. They built a magnificent gothic revival church, and were "spikier" than anyone else in their day. Some have called them the "continuing churchmen" of their day. But they had odd beliefs. They believed in the millianalism which swept England and America (out of which came the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah Witnesses) and thus believed in the imminent return of Christ. They made no provision for continuance. They were, as was much of 19th century England, virulently anti-papist, despite all their papal regalia and name. As a result of their lack of mission and sectarianism, their last priest died in 1971, though there had been no worshipping congregation for some time. Though gorgeous, it felt like worshipping in a museum, and was a bit sad. They have Trustees who oversee the wealth of their lands and buildings, but they are only secular overseers of property. A lovely monument to misguided theology of the Church. Still, the church was beautiful, and the worship brought a glory to the beauty of the Church that it hadn't seen in many a decade.
Hmmmmm. Come to think of it, I don't think we did have a Mass that wasn't a full-blown Solemn Mass!
This was also a day of lectures on Arts and Culture by two university professors, with responses by priests. Part of the reason for this is that the Catholic Revival in the Church of England used visuals and music and drama to communicate the Catholic Faith to a largely illiterate population. The drama of the Mass, the statutes and art and the music communicated in a way the spoken word could not. We explored the ways in which translate that into today's climate. An interesting point was made that, when the SSC Fathers made their missions to the slums, most people were illiterate, but could read art. We are now literate, but do not appreciate how to read art!
Thursday: The Archbishop of Canterbury
In the morning, at the lecture hall of the University of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed us. Attired in black cassock and purple cincture, he was greeted by a standing ovation that went on and on. He proceeded to talk about the "Priesthood of Christ" for 40 minutes. I must tell you that I was impressed with Archbishop Williams. He was direct, even blunt at points; something not usually associated with bishops or archbishops. He was interrupted at several points by ovations of support. And, ++Cantuar came down solidly on the side of the angels when it comes to the primacy of Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition of the Church, on the great issues of our day. I have heard many things about Abp. Williams. Having heard him myself, I can tell you he is a thoughtful, articulate and faithful prelate. In a contest of intellect and verbal skill, Frank Griswold would not even be in the same category.
That evening was back to S. Alban's for Solemn Evensong, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and a champagne reception. As the Cardinal was not available, one of the English bishops spoke, who had been chaplain to Archbishop Carey when he first met the Holy Father. He had some interesting tales to tell.
Friday: Pilgrimage to Walsingham
This was our day trip/pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. I was up at 0530 and on the first bus to depart at 0730. It is a 3 hour coach ride from central London. This was the trip of a lifetime for me (well, all of this London trip is, but Walsingham in particular). The Shrine of Our Lady dates back to 1061, prior to William the Conqueror. Walsingham is featured in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and was the premier pilgrimage site in all of Europe in the Middle Ages. The Shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII along with other Catholic sites, and the image taken and burnt. Not until nearly 400 years later was Father Hope Patton to revive the Shrine, and build it up to it's present glory.
One must understand something about Walsingham: it is in the sticks! Now, they are beautiful and charming sticks, to be sure, but sticks they are indeed! You might as well say Our Lady of Dinwiddie or some such thing (sorry, Fr Lewis!). It is rural, isolated and a dead end. No one gets to Walsingham by accident. Bus drivers frequently get lost trying to find their way there (ours did). Yet, to the noblewoman of the area, Lady Richeldis, the Blessed Virgin appeared to her in a vision. In this vision, she was first instructed to a site, where she would find a holy well. Mary did not disappoint. Later, she was given a vision of the Holy House of Nazareth she was to build, and the statue of Mary that she was to carve. Significantly, the image of the Blessed Virgin shows her pointing to the child Jesus, as if to say, "Honor me if you will, but worship the Divine Son, as do I!"
The first event of the Pilgrimage was quiet prayers in the Shrine, where we asked God to be close to us, and to touch us in body and soul. At the Village Church of S. Mary the Virgin, we concelebrated a Mass to Mary the Mother of God. The Church itself seats some 450, and there were about 250 of us priests vested to concelebrate Mass. The glass of the Church is all clear; the stained glass all being destroyed during Henry VIII's destruction. Since the Catholic Revival, however, many wonderful statues and art have been added.
But the worship! what a wonderful experience! We were reminded, in the sermon, not to get lost in the glitz and glitter and "trinketry", but to spend time with Mary, and listen to her voice to us. After, 300 vested priests sang in procession through the streets of Walsingham, back to the Shrine. I'm not sure anyone had seen such a site. Many villagers stopped, came to the doors of their shoppes, and just listened to the white vested clergy, marching four abreast, or just waved. And, we were singing the great Marian hymns all the way along! Don't worry, S. Bridians; we'll soon be singing these hymns also!
After lunch in the Refectory, we gathered in the Shrine Chapel for prayers, blessings with the waters from the Holy Well and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
All too soon, after shopping at the gift shoppe (where I made a serious contribution to the local economy), it was time to hop on the coach for the 3 hour drive back to London. In all, it was about six hours driving for only a five our visit; but it was worth every minute of it. My only regret was that the time was too short. Several of the clergy (Fr Noble of San Diego and Fr Tanghe of All Saints Sisters) were headed back up for a subsequent, private pilgrimage.
My heart was full, however. Though all too brief, I had been to Walsingham, and I had prayed for all of you.
Saturday: Mass @ the Royal Albert Hall
The morning was free, so I caught up on my sleep, then went down to the local Starbucks for a coffee and to check my e-mail. I had been frustrated by the lack of e-mail connectivity in London.
Towards noon, a couple of us headed to the Albert Hall. This was the site of the great Anglo-Catholic Congresses of the 1920s and 1930s, and would be the site of a Solemn Pontifical Mass at 2PM. It had recently undergone a multi-million dollar refurberation, including rebuilding the massive pipe organ. Upwards of 900 priests would be vested, process and concelebrate, and the Hall itself was packed and sold out. Parishes from all over England and Wales hired coaches and came en mass. It promised to be the climax of the week, a joyous witness the power of the Holy Cross and our Lord's Death and Resurrection. The Mass itself was preceded by prayers, an organ concert, meditations and Benediction.
Promptly at 1.40PM, we stepped out of Holy Trinity Church, past both the Royal School of Music and the Royal School of Organists to the Hall. At 2PM sharp, we started processing to the tune of Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus!, but to the old Victorian tune; not the one with which we're familiar. It took a full twenty minutes to process and get into place. As a part of the procession, we lined up by fours, marched to the Altar, and reverenced it with a kiss. Finally, we were all in place, taking up the centre, left and right choirs, as well as a large section of the central floor
Centre stage was the Altar, with six large candlesticks and six very tall candles on it. Behind was the Throne for the Episcopal Visitor to the Society, Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, of Gibraltar. Between the Altar and the Throne was a towering Society Cross, standing some 30 feet tall!
To begin the Mass, the Father Master General of the Society, David Houlding, processed in with a true relic of the Holy Cross, with which he then proceeded to bless the people. After, it was placed in the very centre hole of the Cross, and a huge pyre of incense was lighted, billowing smoke throughout the Hall. Then, to the hymn, Lift High the Cross, the Cross was raised high above the platform. The crowd broke out in ecstatic ovation at this great symbolism and, truly, high drama. To call it breath-taking would be a huge understatement.
In his sermon, the Father Master General recalled the Bishop of London hearing rumours of "three men in green" at Holborn (meaning that they were wearing coloured Eucharistic vestments, as we do at S. Bride's). It was a very troubling report for the Bishop. The Archdeacon reported that there were three men in green but, "I'm afraid, my Lord, that they won't be put down." At that, the ovation and cheering erupted afresh.
After Communion, and an enthusiastic welcome by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, we recessed out. At the conclusion of the hymn, we were still marching. So the organist struck up again that rouser, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus! As we marched to the rear of the Hall, we passed through the laity, and what a sight it was to see families, young children, men and women, all singing at the top of their lungs, many with tears streaming down their faces.