First off, apologies. It has been almost 2 weeks since I’ve made an update. The reason for this is I have recently had my FINAL EVER EXAM! But although I have been pretty slack with updating due to revision, panic, the exam itself and post-exam (alcohol related) stress, I have still managed to visit a number of different Churches in the mean time. This means that I have a few visits that I need to write about, but, unlike Jesus, I will keep first things first and last things last.
Any students at the University of Manchester will be familiar with the Catholic Church of the Holy Name. It is situated just across the road from the Student’s Union and (unsurprisingly) just next to the Catholic Chaplaincy. It’s the one that looks like some kind of gothic cathedral which attracts hunchbacks and Disney film makers, and is the largest church in Manchester, quite a lot larger than the Anglican Cathedral in the center of town.
One of the reasons I was keen to go here is, as noted in my review of St Peter’s, I suffer from a number of preconceptions about Roman Catholics. I felt I should test out whether any of these were true, and I thought that the only way I could really learn what Roman Catholicism was like was to experience its worship. Never one for just dipping my toe in, I decided to attend the Latin Extraordinary Mass, diving into the metaphorical deep end while trying not to bang my head on the bottom. Latin Mass was common practice for thousands of years, but has been somewhat abandoned since the 1960s after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
I arrived about an hour before the service and looked around the magnificent church, reading the stories of the saints and attempting to gain an insight into Catholic spirituality. This was one of the things that helped me get over my slightly iconoclastic doubts about having statues and the like in church. The other thing was my Catholic friend describing them as “Holy Power Rangers.” She’s definitely going to purgatory for that one.
The Church itself is ridiculously beautiful, easily the most magnificent one I’ve been to in Manchester, the scale of it alone is jaw-dropping. Walking around I saw a collection of bones, which I think were relics of a saint, and they also had a shrine to John Henry Newman, the English convert to Catholicism who was the reason that the pope visited Britain last year. I also read a number of booklets and leaflets on issues such as death & dying, evolution, Buddhism and was surprised to find myself in agreement with a lot of what they said.
I studied Latin at school and so I was quite used to hearing it being used and speaking it myself. Dominus, Nostrum, Ecce Romani, it just adds authority to what you say. A schoolmate even got “Ubi in Roma?” (when in Rome) tattooed onto his buttocks in an attempt to quote Will Ferrell, but apparently he got the tense wrong. All of these expectations built the service up in my head, and I felt disappointed by how it actually went.
The service instructions were spread between a book and a sheet, and the sheet had some photocopied instructions on it, as well as a lot of jargon which I didn’t really understand. Which bit was the mass? How did everyone know when to stand, when to sit and when to kneel? I’m guessing telepathy, because the scruffily photocopied sheet really wasn’t very helpful and the priest was speaking Latin so quickly that it sounded like he was in a very old-fashioned rap battle.
The main thing I didn’t like was the lack of participation I felt. Most of the service was just the priests kneeling in front of the altar, looking away from the congregation and speaking Latin- I think it should be obvious why I didn’t feel involved. There was no call-and-response liturgy, no hymns, in fact the only time the congregation got to say anything was to recite the Hail Mary, which wasn’t even on the service sheet so I just stood there like a lemon. It definitely felt like the priests were more important than me, and I felt more like a spectator than someone engaging in worship. Just because I’m not a cloistered celibate doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak in Church! The priest afterward addressed the congregation in English. I was kind of expecting a bit of teaching or a reflection on the Gospel that had been read out (in Latin), but it was an exhortation for people to stop stealing the service booklets.
Although I think the church is astoundingly beautiful, and I hope I gained some small understanding of Catholic worship, Mass really wasn’t for me. I like taking Communion, but it isn’t necessarily the most important part of worship for me, I dislike singing cheesy worship music but doing something with my lips apart from chowing down on Jesus would have been nice, and having the people leading the worship facing away from me did feel a little unimportant. I think I will have to check out one of the student masses, which apparently are a bit more intimate. Until then, I wouldn’t really recommend this church for any Protestant-but-curious people in Manchester.