|801: The Holy Name of Jesus Christ, Manchester, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Havilaugh.
The church: The Holy Name of Jesus Christ, Oxford Road, Manchester, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: This is a very impressive grey stone Victorian neo-Gothic building in the heart of the student area of Manchester. In the muddle of the strange and varied architectural styles of the university buildings, this church is really noticeable, even though it is currently having building work done on it. The interior is ornately decorated and beautiful, with a highly decorated pulpit, large clamshells holding holy water, and a stunning altar. Despite all this, the decorations are neither garish, nor inappropriate.
The church: The congregation seemed very mixed, surprisingly so, bearing in mind its location.
The neighbourhood: The church is in the student area of Manchester. It is located between the Roman Catholic chaplaincy and the medical school, and is opposite the Students Union building. Relatively few people live in the area, and those that do are mainly students, but this was not reflected in the congregation. There were students present, but there was not a proportionally high number.
The cast: The name of the priest was not announced before or during the service, nor was it on any of the literature I was presented with.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn sung mass for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord.
How full was the building?
I would guess the church had about 200 people attending the service – just over half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was presented with a service sheet when I entered the church. As the church was already quiet it would have seemed inappropriate to have been welcomed with a spoken greeting.
Was your pew comfortable?
It wasn't bad. It was a plain wooden job with padded kneelers attached to the pew in front. There was enough leg room, both when sitting and kneeling, which was good.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Genuinely quiet and reverential. It was a pleasant change to the noise and hubbub outside. It seemed wrong to talk but this wasn't a problem.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Initially the congregation sung "Hail the day that sees Him rise", followed by a soloist from the choir singing the introit in Latin. The first words sung by the priest were, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen". The first spoken words were the confession.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were each given a service sheet and no further information was needed. Most of the Latin was translated for our information on the sheet. The sung sections had the music printed and the words for the hymns were provided.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ was played during the hymns and processions. Bells were chimed at various points of the liturgy. Most of the sung liturgy was unaccompanied, except by a very strong choir.
Did anything distract you?
A man to one side of me spent the offertory praying from a book and using his rosary. During the homily, it seemed as if the priest had inhaled too much incense as he proceeded to choke his way through it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Bells and smells, sung mass and Latin – I think that probably constitutes a stiff upper lip service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 The priest was neither the most inspiring nor the most boring preacher I've come across. He did struggle a bit, as his voice seemed to be giving out.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He managed to get from ascension via changes in liturgical practice to everyone being a preacher throughout their lives.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir really was angelic. They were a joy to listen to. Also, the majority of the liturgy being in Latin was heavenly. I found it a liberating experience and wonderfully peaceful as I felt no pressure to try to understand what was going on.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I did find the sound system annoying at times, especially when it echoed through the whole church. The incense took a bit of getting used to. It was, in itself, not unpleasant, it just distracted from the reverential feel of the service. The worst thing was the scaffolding in the north transept, which detracted from the rest of the church.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone left and headed off, so I headed off too. The priest said goodbye to each of us, and shook our hands on the steps outside the church. This, again, seemed to be the right way to end the experience.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 The service was not what I'm used to, but I would love to go back occasionally. I am not a Roman Catholic, so it would be strange to make it my regular church, but it was still a very pleasant experience.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. It was an honour to experience this. I felt God was definitely there with us, and it was so great to be able to share in that. It made me very thankful.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
In a busy world, feeling peaceful is something to be cherished. That is what I'll remember for much longer than a week.