It was an extraordinary turn of events which determined, some weeks ago, that I should be at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad in Birmingham for the principal mass of Palm Sunday yesterday. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at the significance of the event in the light of past experience. My previous arrival at mass there some twenty four years ago had been marked by a fanfare of trumpets. It just so happened that we had arrived at the beginning of a civic mass and so I graciously consented to share the fanfare with the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. Yesterday's mass was noteworthy because the celebrant, the Archbishop, had just become the most celebrated prelate in England and Wales and, at the end of mass, the Cathedral Administrator (I think) made a speech congratulating his grace which we applauded. Archbishop Nichols, in his reply spoke of the challenge ahead of him and of his affection for the priests and people of his current diocese. I felt privileged at being present at a historic moment in the life of the Church in our country. Privileges, like all God's gifts however, are for a purpose and perhaps here what is needed now is prayer.
There was one disappointment for me at St Chad's and that was the fact that the Passion was not sung but read. I suppose I have been spoilt in recent years at Liverpool where it is sung on both Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Somehow it seems more "real" when it is sung- the words carry better. In fact I would say that the sung words have a more direct quality- they go straight to the heart. Another practice here which struck me as rather -( well I am sorry to say but feel I must)- silly was having the congregation read out the crowd parts. There is something so infant school about it one almost hears the teacher prompting, "Now, children, what did all the people say?" What, in the name of all that is sensible, is the point of that? It is surely a case of active participation gone barmy, or am I missing something?
There was, nevertheless, much that was good. The choir sang the plainsong antiphons, Hosanna Filio David and Pueri Hebraeorum and we were able to join in singing the Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Mass XVIII as well as the Pater Noster and the Ave Regina Caelorum. The Archbishop wore an impressive red (Pugin?) cope for the Blessing of Palms and procession and an appallingly bland modern chasuble for the mass. All in all one had a sense of a work in progress and that we are living in changing times in more ways than one. When I got home my son, who had been at Liverpool showed me his mass leaflet and I showed mine. "So you had the better music," I said.
"Yes," he said, "but Archbishop Kelly persists in his performance of walking around the altar to listen to the Passion." "Archbishop Nichols has more gravitas," I said. "Compare the liturgy dot com,"he replied.
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