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  1302: St Mary's, Chelsea, London

St Mary's, Chelsea, London

Mystery Worshipper: Brown Scapular.
The church: St Mary's, Cadogan Street, Chelsea, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The church is Victorian Gothic with many of its original fixtures and fittings. It has a very beautiful Lady altar with a gilded Gothic canopy and a very attractive Christus Rex hanging over the high altar.
The church: This church is situated in one of the most prestigious boroughs (Chelsea) in London and along with the Brompton Oratory and Farm Street (the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Mayfair) is used by the "smart set"!
The cast: Three priests, one member of the Knights of Malta and accompanying acolytes.
The date & time: Saturday August 12th 2006, 12.00am.

What was the name of the service?
High mass according to the tridentine rite, on the feast of St Clare. This was a bit strange, since St Clare's feast is third class, and high masses are usually only for first class feasts and Sundays. This is is an annual tridentine mass organised by members of the parish, with their regular Sunday Latin mass choir.

How full was the building?
It was an "eyes front, no looking round" sort of service, but I would say it was at least half full (80ish people). I think this was a reasonably good attendance, considering that the mass, to my knowledge, was only published on the LMS website.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but only because I arrived early to get my missal, so I would know who was doing what and when.

Was your pew comfortable?
The usual Victorian oak pews: not uncomfortable and good for deportment.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Extremely quiet and very reverential. People were praying or reading their missals.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Dilexisti Justitiam et odisti iniquitatem, sung as the introit by the excellent choir. I think (although I couldn't hear him) that the priest started the service with In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Daily Missal according to the rite of 1962, and the leaflets with excerpts from this.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
There were some charming little French girls who kept asking their mother difficult theological questions (of the type only four year-olds can dream up) in stage whispers, as well as jumping up and down on the kneeler. Considering the non-child-friendly nature of high mass, they behaved angelically!

St Mary's, Chelsea, London

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lip mantilla-wearing Latin, like you have never seen before. Even the readings were in Latin. The congregation in a tridentine mass follows in the missal and "silently prays" the mass. There are books, now largely out of print, which give appropriate prayers and mental dispositions for each part of the service. All we had to do was to know when to kneel, cross ourselves or stand, which for the uninitiated was trickier than it looked. It was very easy to lose your place, especially when the Priest was inaudible, which made it like trying to decipher a conversation where you have the full script but can only hear half of it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
This being a Saturday and a third class feast, there was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We were treated to beautiful singing throughout, from the choir. Also heavenly was the prayerful reverence that characterised the mass for beginning to end.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The poker faces! While people shouldn't be perpetually wreathed in smiles, neither should they scowl like gargoyles.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As the service was outside the normal parish timetable, there was no post-mass coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If St Mary's had a regular tridentine high mass, I would definitely attend. In this case, I think the question could be better phrased as: "Would you be persuaded to regularly go to tridentine mass?" My answer would be yes!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me glad to be a Catholic Christian and to have such a rich, ancient and varied tradition to draw on.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The choir and the super vestments.
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