|382: Brompton Oratory, Kensington, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Newman's Own.
The church: Brompton Oratory, Kensington, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Imposing, Byzantine Italian style structure, with very high ceilings and an ornate, especially large main altar. Both sides of the church are lined with rather austere chapels to to the Sacred Heart, Virgin Mary and various saints (including Philip Neri, the dynamic founder of the Oratorian Fathers).
The church: Based on the notices posted in the courtyard, it appears that the congregation are very involved in religious and social justice issues. The church itself is a clear devotional centre, with multiple daily services (English, novus ordo Latin, and tridentine) and hours of scheduled sacramental confession.
The neighbourhood: The neighbourhood is one of the wealthier and most culturally rich in London. The Oratory is flanked on either side by Holy Trinity, Brompton, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the science and natural history museums are close by. Harrod's is in the vicinity as well, and there are marvellous restaurants and shops.
The cast: Not provided.
What was the name of the service?
Daily Mass (Latin).
How full was the building?
The chapel where mass was offered was quite full, with people of various ages and classes, and this was especially impressive on a weekday morning.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a tolerable, if a bit unsteady, chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet and intensely devout. I was very moved by the reverence and simplicity of the many people who were praying, meditating, or lighting the scores of tapers before the various shrines.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Introibo ad altare Dei" (I shall go unto the altar of God the God who gives joy to my youth).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were provided with a leaflet containing the liturgy.
What musical instruments were played?
No music at this service. However, I know from the past that there is a lengthy, super-high mass on Sunday mornings, with a great deal of music and ceremony.
Did anything distract you?
The architecture, rich though it was, is rather overpowering, being such a mixture of ornate and austere. I also felt a twinge of sadness that a few people were reading prayer leaflets or devotions rather than paying close attention to the liturgy... though I tapped my breast when I realised that, had my attention been what it should, I would not have noticed them.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Solemn, reverent, and dignified and a testimony to how congregations can be active participants in a mass offered in Latin.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing the pure Latin in a quiet chapel was rather awesome. I had the impression that I was watching precisely what a Latin mass of the new rite was intended to be.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Some of those lighting candles before and after mass were obviously offering urgent petitions, and had pain (or even tears there is a strong expatriate Italian populat here) on their faces. Moved though I was at their obvious faith, I ached at feeling what sadness they knew.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people in attendance either continued private prayers or needed to hurry, so the "lost act" did not matter. I'll admit that I wanted to see the new exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum and did not tarry for long.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 I'd be inclined to come more for daily mass, but the Sunday service, much like tortellini alfredo, is a rich diet best savoured on special occasions rather than consumed weekly. (I'm Anglican, anyway.)
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. It is impossible to fully describe the atmosphere of faith and devotion. When I overheard an elderly lady whisper, in Italian, before the statue of the Blessed Mother, asking for protection for a grandchild (in a very homely, mother-to-mother attitude), I blinked back the tears and wished I had such trust.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Praying before time, listening to the silence with the imposing tabernacle of the high altar in view.