My First Anglican Communion

Yes, I know that my title is a bit of a tease.  Inspired by Deborah Gyapong's recent post (and how nice it is to have her back on The Anglo-Catholic) about St Agatha's, Portsmouth, and being myself in a bout of ill health which has led me to be unable to celebrate my parish's Sunday Masses, I thought that I would pay a visit to St Agatha's for its Sunday morning High Mass.

St Agatha's is a fascinating church; rarely have I seen so many corners packed with lovely things.  The building has clearly been through many vicissitudes, including the shearing off of its aisles (total in the case of the north aisle, partial in the case of the south), but its Byzantine interior, redolent of Westminster Cathedral, still is impressive and prayerful.  There is, should anyone care to visit, some parking at the church, and lots of (paying) parking at an adjacent shopping centre.  It can be found a very short distance north of Portsmouth Cathedral (the Catholic one) on the main route out of town.

Mass was celebrated by Fr Mercer, of the Community of the Resurrection, assisted by John Maunder, the regular pastor, who assisted as subdeacon, awaiting his ordinations over the coming months as a deacon, then priest, of the Ordinariate.  There was no deacon today.

For me, as a cradle Catholic, the Mass was an extraordinary mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar.  Mostly, the ritual was that of the Tridentine High Mass, and the words, I assume, from the English Missal.  The rite was scrupulously correct and devoutly performed; had they asked me, I would have had little difficulty in supplying their missing deacon.  Such difficulties as there would have been would have concerned the Anglican supplements to the rite: before the entrance of the procession, a versicle and the Collect for Purity; the Gospel read facing west (I have never quite been able to understand the ritual rationale for that one); bidding prayers after the Creed (read by the Celebrant in the absence of a deacon), a penitential rite before the offertory, and a very different communion and post communion rite.  No complaints; it was prayerful and entirely expressive of Catholic doctrine.

Fr Mercer preached a very good sermon about prayer, it being Rogation Sunday; he gave a very sound and useful discourse on impetrative prayer, and why it is still a good idea, despite being essentially unnecessary.

At Communion, I made my first Anglican-style communion: Fr Mercer did not baulk when I stuck out my tongue (very properly, they had a communion plate, which suggested that they were ready for me), so I thought it polite to accept their normal method of receiving the Chalice, which has always filled me with dread.  But, Deo gratias, it went fine, and the Precious Blood did not go up my nose when handled by someone else, nor spill.

After Mass, there were (as I was expecting) prayers at our Lady's altar; not just the Regina Cæli (entertainingly sung to Lasst uns Erfreuen), but also Wiseman's prayers for the conversion of England.  Not just the normal Sunday one, but also the one for the second Sunday of each month.  Then were some of the Leonine prayers — the collect, and the prayer to St Michael — and finally the Hail Holy Queen and its collect.

Musically, there were four hymns, of standard Anglican repertoire; had I not been an organist in an Anglican church in the distant past, I would not have known them.  As it was, it was a nice blast from the past, though my unreliable delving into my memory prevented me singing as I might have done otherwise. The ordinary was Martin Shaw's Folk Mass (not what you're thinking), which I also remembered from those long ago days at St Paul's, Nork.

The propers were sung to English chant by a lone man in cassock and cotta on the sanctuary, in addition to the hymns (which were at the beginning, Gradual, Offertory and Communion, in addition to the proper chants).  The congregation barely participated (showing already a determination to become 'real' Catholics), though in fairness, there were not many of them.

I had a brief word with Fr Mercer before Mass, and with one or two others.  They were very friendly, and I greatly regretted the fact that I could not join them after Mass for that other Anglican staple; refreshments in the church itself (the idea of which still makes me shudder).  But I would have gladly done so, but for the fact that (benighted papist that I am) I had thought when buying my ticket that two hours' parking allowance would have been sufficient.  It was, but only barely.

May God bless the work at St Agatha's; and I hope and pray that it may grow very soon. The kernel is unquestionably small, but the product is prayerful, and I am confident that they will soon attract more people when the news gets around.

Dat Deus incrementum!

Because of my hurry to avoid a parking ticket, I apologise to the clergy and people at St Agathas for neither having an opportunity of greeting them properly, nor being able to ask permission to take and publish these photos.  But I hope that they will not be displeased. I have more photos, but because of my ineptness, I have not been able to upload them. Sorry!

* * *

Moderator's Note: Fr. Finnigan has sent me several more pictures via email.  I am certain that our readership will be greatly interested as there are relatively few pictures out there depicting liturgical action at St. Agatha's, Portsmouth.  Here they are:

Vidi Aquam

Regina Cæli

Author: Fr. Seán Finnegan

Born in 1961, Fr. Seán Finnegan studied at the University of St. Andrews and St. John’s Seminary, Wonersh, England. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton on September 24, 1989 where he has spent the majority of his priesthood, apart from a few years in the Oratories of Oxford and London. He is presently the Parish Priest of the Parish of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Adur Valley, which is on the South Coast of England, not far from Brighton. Fr. Finnegan is the author of the exceptional blog Valle Adurni (the ancient Roman name for Shoreham, the main town of Fr. Finnegan’s parish, is supposed to have been Portus Adurni). He also teaches Early Church History at St. John’s Seminary.

17 thoughts on “My First Anglican Communion”

  1. Is it common for Anglicans in England to take coffee hour in the church's sanctuary? Where there is no church hall, I could understand, but as Fr. Finnigan, it would freak me out a little. Where there is accommodation elsewhere, I can't imagine taking refreshments in church, especially as routine.

  2. Thank you, Fr. Finnegan, for such a very edifying and encouraging post, as always. By the way, given all that is going on these days in the Church (see Christian's post above), and awaiting the publication of the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham, I am using Fr. Finnegan's own "A Book of Hours and Other Catholic Devotions" with great profit. It is right in line with the best of both the Anglo-Catholic and Latin traditions.

    Ad multos annos!

  3. The writer asks of the significance of singing/reading the Gospel facing west. The practice of reading the lections into the east wall is an old peculiarity. The priest celebrant had to read all the parts of the Mass, even while the choir was singing, while the Epistoler and Gospellor were singing/reading. It's a carry-over going way back. Now, traditionally speaking, the west is the region of AntiChrist, toward which the baptismal renunciations (and spittings) were made. So, it is logical that the Gospel be proclaimed even to the region of AntiChrist. Yes, there was an old custom of singing/reading the Gospel to the north. In old times, the north was a region of paganism. So, the Gospel would be proclaimed to the heathens of Ultima Thule. There are many of these old practices and customs about which the origins are now forgotten or hardly known. The Eastern Church has many such fascinating customs, too. All these customs are part of the living history of the Church. Enjoy looking into them.

  4. But it wasn't an Anglican Communion, it was Roman Catholic. The Church of England has two authorised prayer books, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship. The Tridentine High Mass is not in either of our prayer books.

    1. I think what Fr. Finnigan means is "Anglican-style reception of the consecrated species".

      And a liturgy needs not to be authorized by the CofE to be Anglican! Because, if so, neither St Bart's London (Affirming Catholic: Latin Tridentine Mass with priestettes) nor Holy Trinity Brompton (Low-church Evangelical: liturgy invented along by the minister as the service proceeds) would be Anglican. On both ends of the spectrum, people who are undoubtedly Anglicans have the BCP (either the 1662 or the new one) in horror.

      + PAX et BONUM

      1. Yes, Henri you are right. It was late at night after a busy Sunday! The point I was really trying to make was that Fr Finnigan entitled his post as "My First Anglican Communion". The rules of his own church would not allow him to receive the sacrament at an Anglican service only at an RC one. 'Anglican style' as you put it is a more accurate description, although as you observed there are a wide variety of different services in use. The examples of the two churches in London you mention are both breaking the rules of the CofE and their priests are breaking promises they have made to use only authorised texts.

    1. John Bowles, how bitter you seem.

      However small or old that congregation, how blessed they are to have Fr. Mercer who is humble and holy enough to care even for the faithful who are old and insignificant in the eyes of the world. St. Agatha's may seem like a joke to you, but it is a significant in the history of the Ordinariates.

      1. Actually, not everyone is old and decrepit! There are a significant number of under twenties particularly amongst the altar servers.

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