Summertime and the living’s not easy

A week or two back the clocks went forward with the approach of Summer. I regard the loss of an hour as the price we pay for warmer weather. But this time I entirely forgot. As a result I missed my favoured 8:15 Mass. This is a quiet affair with a mature congregation, and where by constant habit we have our accepted seats. Even the homily is usually comprehensible, although not inevitably inspirational. I had to choose another Mass and I picked the 5 pm which was likely to be reasonably brief.

But I was wrong. It turned out to be very full, and with a large proportion of young people – even if some of these were cavalier about time-keeping – continuous shuffling for latecomers was required. But my spirits were already dampened by spotting a little musical band and an adolescent choir in front of a board displaying several hymn numbers. I have no objection to singing in church; I do so quietly because, strangely to me, I am told that I cannot sing in tune.

It took something over half an hour to get as far as the Offertory. Even then many numbers, relating to the two large hymn books which had been provided, were still to come. I read them because the choir were not trained in the art of comprehensible singing. That was something of a shock. I had no idea how appallingly pedestrian Catholic hymns can be. Yes, I have written a little poetry, perhaps without much merit, but I would have been ashamed to have produced anything quite so puerile.

But I was glad to see the Offertory arrive, even though the words were stifled by more singing. But I had been fearful that the essential elements of the Mass would be omitted altogether. It was a relief to hear from the bell that they had not omitted the Consecration to fit in yet another hymn. I have to admit to getting out of the church as quickly as was consistent with my Sunday obligation. I needed to – in order to escape an occasion of sin..

An occasion of sin? Yes, I knew these were good people. I am sure they are sincere. More importantly perhaps, one of the largest churches in the London suburbs was filled to the gunwales with young people with and without their parents. And this is in a parish where there are eight Sunday Masses from which to choose. My bad temper was inexcusable. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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14 Responses to Summertime and the living’s not easy

  1. John Thomas says:

    Yes, I know how you feel about these things, Quentin. I’ve studied liturgy and its setting for many decades, written about such things, given talks, etc. – yet I admit, shamefully perhaps, that I don’t actually LIKE church services. I fancy most militant atheists think people like me – us – do that kind of thing – church – because we get a kick out of it, or it’s some kind of prop … Actually, I spend most times in church waiting for the time to go home, and sometimes I leave in a worse frame of mind than I entered in. But I do it because it’s the right thing to do … (I wonder if non-religious people would understand that …?)

    • Alan says:

      John,

      Speaking as a non-religious person I can certainly understand doing something that you don’t want to do because you feel it is the right thing to do. The question that would linger is why, at the very heart of the choice, do you feel it is the right thing to do? Does it have a value that you believe outweighs the downsides for you personally? Or do you accept that it is the right thing to do on faith/trust even though you don’t see any such clear positive? Or some other explanation perhaps.

  2. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin.
    It is good to hear that so many young people are going to Holy Mass when there are so many distractions to keep them away.
    There will be a time in their lives when they will not want the distractions that are included in The Sacrifice of Holy Mass and want the peace and quiet that we share in the death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ .

  3. galerimo says:

    Quentin, my dear man, forgive me; you are sounding like me, and when I sound like me I get called a cranky old fuddy duddy.

    In all honesty, I can’t see anything in the Gospels that remotely resembles a Catholic Mass. I am quite sure the last supper was a noisy, busy affair with a lot of coming and going. I don’t think the men and women there would have been any more melodious with their psalm singing than most motley mass groups.

    My wife and I have just returned from a cruise of the islands in the south pacific and were delighted to find that daily mass was offered on board. It was a wonderfully haphazard affair – there were more than 40 different nationalities on board and I think every one of them was represented by at least one person each day. Once, I got to do a reading and a Chinese lady said to me that she didn’t know what I said but thought it was beautiful. That must surely be good liturgy!

    Our wonderful celebrant would get into his alb and stole down in his cabin and then make his way through the crew’s quarters up to the top deck conference room – with its sweeping views of the wide ocean. One day an officer stopped him on his way up to say mass and asked “Who are you, and why are you dressed up like that? “I’m the ship’s ghost” our priest replied.

    It was very clear to me from the atmosphere that there was great appreciation of what we were all doing in that multi, multi cultural Eucharist on the high and beautiful seas. And I know you are right when you point out that they are not always like that.

    I think it is amazing that we can derive so much benefit in terms of grace and blessings from what can often be more like a cattle mart than a Catholic Mass.

    And one more amazing thing – I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on the radio singing “Summertime” at the precise moment I opened your delightful Blog entitled “Summertime and the living’s not easy”, Quentin.

    My faith in Quantum Mechanics grows stronger with this evidence of how photons so far apart can compel each other to take on identical properties without any evidence of cause and effect or any other communication.

    Mass, mystery and mayhem.

    • St.Joseph says:

      galerimo.
      I may have misunderstood you, forgive me if I have.
      However I don’t believe that ‘The Last Supper’ would have a been a noisy busy affair, with a lot of coming and going.
      The night before He died He took bread in His hands etc;
      In a dignified manner Jesus knew what was going to happen , He was celebrating the Holy Eucharist with 12 Apostles ,I don’t believe there were any females there either.
      Holy Mass is first a Sacrifice. Lest we forget. and to receive His Body Blood Soul and Divinity for the Salvation of our souls in the state of Grace.
      Isn’t that what He died for!

  4. Mr. John Falloon says:

    Quentin, I do sympathize with you, but don’t you think it could be an age thing. I ( an oldie ) can now never listen to what is called popular music and only appreciate classical ( very broad spectrum ) and my kind of jazz music. Give me Ella and Louis anytime. What now irritates me most is when celebrating clergy at mass break out chanting with the most discordant voices imaginable during the Consecration. What gives them the right to subject us to what they think is to the greater glory of God when musically it is the exact opposite ? In all fairness they should undergo an audition before attempting the task. We ought to be informed. Regards, Freddy.

  5. Geordie says:

    I believe that in the Orthodox Churches, one of the tests of a true vocation to the priesthood is the ability to sing.

  6. Iona says:

    Oh, Quentin! – I hope you offered it up?

    I once went to a Mass in a church somewhere near the foot of The Shard (in London), which started 20 minutes late (at the time it was scheduled to start there was barely any sign that anything was going to happen, and just one family in the church besides myself). It included a baptism of a small girl – not a baby, she was about 2 or 3 – who appeared to be hyperactive, and spent most of her time tearing around the church in her long white dress.

    As I was leaving at the end, the priest said to me wanly “Just passing through, are you?”

    Why do we go? It’s the Mass, innit?

  7. John Nolan says:

    You can’t find decent liturgy and music in London, of all places? You would have to go out of your way to find something as dire as Quentin’s ‘yoof’ Mass. And I can’t imagine that he would not be aware that in his parish the five o’clock Mass was of this ilk.

    Since my initiation into this style of ‘liturgy’ in 1968, aged 17, I have successfully avoided it.

    However, you have to attend it to write about it. I am reminded of an editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, recently deceased, who claimed to have inadvertently stumbled across an EF Mass (highly unlikely) and stuck his hand out for Communion only to find it was not allowed. This gave him an excuse to write a petulant article about traditionalists. He was, of course, aware of the rubrics of the 1962 Missal, and indeed had attended the ‘traditional’ Mass for most of his life.

    They say that journalism is a meretricious occupation. They’re not wrong.

    • Quentin says:

      The word ‘meretricious’ refers to prostitution. I don’t think that journalists are more given to that than other class of society. However I am a columnist rather than a journalist. I won’t waste time with your gratuitous suggestion that I was aware of the nature of the Mass before I attended it.

  8. Brendan says:

    As a young boy – and congenial to this I deduce that I am of the same age as John Nolan … but perhaps there the similarities end – I recall waiting nervously in the lines of pews for Saturday morning confession , or during Mass , marveling at the stolid piety of several of an older
    generation ‘ saying their rosary ‘. The pre- conciliar Mass gave us time to think with its perennial round of rituals with well known music ( eg. Missa de Angelis ) …..we knew what was coming and it was solid wholesome and good !
    Many people stayed in in their seats long after Mass just praying. Our parish ( like many, owing a debt to those over the Irish Sea ) was never served by a ‘ regular priesthood ‘ or ever saw a nun in my living memory around the town serving the community. The one thing that was present at Mass was a focus ( impossible to quantify but nevertheless palpable ) on the faith of a ‘ community at prayer ‘ with their Maker and a sense of the ‘ numinous ‘ in its outreach.
    Was there a ‘ personal ‘ demonstration of ‘ faith ‘ arising from an encounter with the Lord at Mass ? With me , no…with others , only God can tell !
    Post-conciliar reconstruction swept all that away with the advent of the ‘ D-I-Y ‘ innovations ( particularly in the music ) of the 60’s and 70’s ..and beyond.
    The sense of the numinous ,which to my mind is a precursor to engaging with God as a community had gone.

  9. tim says:

    Quentin, we sympathise. But you are lucky to have a quiet Mass to attend! We have three masses, with music at all of them. There are a few passable modern hymns, but too many authors feel entitled to abandon both rhyme and scansion. Some efforts actively grate – and would be lucky to receive a “Well tried” in a Junior school competition. And the text of our Masses varies – by ‘improving’ the readings, for example. This is always irritating, and sometimes plain wrong. But after Saturday evening mass in the parish, following which my wife follows Iona’s prescription (feeling however that it is hard to have to do so) it is refreshing to attend an Extraordinary Form Mass celebrated with punctilio (and an excellent sermon) elsewhere on Sunday.

  10. Alasdair says:

    I have always taken the opportunity to attend “different” church services, especially when I’m away from home and from my own church. Last Sunday I attended the morning service at the Chiesa Apostolica at Viareggio in Italy. The experience would not have been enjoyed by all the blog members. To paraphrase Quentin “It turned out to be very full, and with a large proportion of young people – even if some of these were cavalier about time-keeping – continuous shuffling for latecomers was required. It was filled to the gunwales with young people with and without their parents”. Furthermore it was loud! There was a 5 piece gospel-praise band and 2 vocalists and the words were projected onto large screens, and sung with gusto by all. The songs were all 1980’s or more recent and some were recognisably translated from English, and there was at least one that I have heard a Catholic congregation singing – “My Jesus, my saviour”.
    There were 6 adult baptisms, including at least 1 conversion from Islam (and possibly another judging by the asian-middle eastern appearance of the man). The sermon used Acts ch8 – Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch ie the baptism theme.
    The whole 2-hour experience was uplifting and my wife and I were still singing hours later. Great to see that some branches of Christ’s church are thriving and growing even if some others are not.

  11. ignatius says:

    Oh come on, kids… for goodness sake!!

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