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!
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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:
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