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331: Brompton Oratory, London
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Brompton Oratory, London
Mystery Worshipper: Wayward Crucifer.
The church: London Oratory, Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, South Kensington, London (Brompton Oratory).
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Ornate neo-classical, many side altars, statues, plus a large high altar with very tall candles behind.
The church: This is regarded as one of the more traditional of the Catholic churches in London.
The neighbourhood: The Victoria & Albert Museum to the west, Holy Trinity Brompton to the north (about 50 metres beyond the high altar when faced from the nave) and an old, unused tube station to the west.
The cast: Unknown. Five clergy dressed in red and gold csopes, with a small army of servers assisting.
What was the name of the service?
Vespers and Solemn Benediction.

How full was the building?
Quarter to half full. People continued to arrive during the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. People just walked in. I studied the magazines at the back, but there was no one to welcome that I saw.

Was your pew comfortable?
Mostly. It was a solid wooden one, with kneelers attached to the pew in front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, people entering and taking their places, and praying or sitting. The choir made its way peacefully to the gallery. At the entrance of the clergy a bell was rung, and some very loud organ playing was done.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Deus in adjutorium meum intende" was sung.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were given out. There were stacks of The Catholic Hymnbook on the pillars, but these were not used.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, with a very good choir.

Did anything distract you?
There was a very large red covering for the tabernacle – it looked as if there was someone standing on the altar, being about the right scale from where I sat. At the start of each sung psalm, one of the priests got up from his seat and walked alternately to the left and the right, singing something inaudible, and then returned to his seat.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very formal stylized worship in Latin. There was much bowing between participants, putting on and off of birettas, and one server in a lace alb appeared and bowed to the assembled clergy at the start of the Gloria which ended each psalm.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful singing from the choir and the music in general. The organ at the entrance was very stunning, reminding me of the majesty of God.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to stop myself from actually laughing when the "O salutaris" (the first anthem during the benediction) was sung to the tune of "O Thou who camest from above" – a hymn I had sung in my own church that morning.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People just left or were busy entering for the mass that was immediately after. A few may have smiled.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee ws served, presumably as mass was about to begin.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I am not a Roman Catholic, and I have many churches in my own denomination to choose from. However, if I was a Catholic, this church has services in English as well as Latin, and worshipping in such surroundings, with such solemn worship available, might well persuade me to make it my regular.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It reminded me of the splendour of God, so in a way, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Either the much bobbing up and down by the priests at the front, or the choir singing "O salutaris" to a well-known hymn tune, which I will never think of in the same way again.
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