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1086: St Mary's, Derby, England
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St Mary's, Derby
Mystery Worshipper: dj_ordinaire.
The church: St Mary's, Derby, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: This magnificent 1839 structure, the work of the early 19th century Gothic revivalist August Welby Pugin, is marked by soaring perpendiculars and beautiful arcades. The sanctuary is apsidal and decorated with Marian symbols, whilst Pugin's altar is framed by a chancel arch modelled on a rainbow. A Lady chapel was added by Joseph A. Hansom, famous for having patented the two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle known as the hansom cab. Curiously, the building faces north rather than east.
The church: St Mary's was built to serve Irish immigrants to Derby. The current pastor is Irish, and links to the Irish community remain very strong.
The neighborhood: The church stands to the north of Derby city centre, over a busy ring-road. From most vantage points, Pugin's delicate tower can be seen in consort with the more rugged tower of the nearby Anglican cathedral.
The cast: The Rt Rev. Malcolm McMahon, O.P., Bishop of Nottingham, was the celebrant and homilist. Concelebrating were the Rev. Tim O'Sullivan, pastor, and the Rev. Joe Wheat, curate. The cantor was Seamus O'Sea, a local musician. The Lord Mayor of Derby and deputy Lord Mayor of Cork were also in attendance.
What was the name of the service?
Mass for La Fheile Padraig – the feast of St Patrick.

How full was the building?
Absolutely packed, perhaps 300 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Goodness. We arrived at the church in procession from the square outside Derby Assembly Rooms, led by a pipe band, an enormous Irish flag, and a troupe of half a dozen very large wolfhounds. Oh, and a police escort. Once we arrived, I was greeted by a Sister of Mercy and handed a green service booklet by a greeter – these quickly ran out. Somebody had been handing out shamrocks earlier, but I didn't find any.

Was your pew comfortable?
A pew with fixed kneeler, very narrow but more comfortable than it sounds – or would have been if we hadn't been packed in like sardines!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Much noise and confusion, although many people were praying in the midst of this.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our celebration of St Patrick's Day," first in Gaelic and then in English. The service proper began with "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just a little green booklet containing the hymns and anthems. It was assumed that the congregation knew the rest of the novus ordo by heart.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, accordion.

Did anything distract you?
Good heavens, everything – just as it should be! First, the good things. The aisle glass was superb – it was not too dark, and mostly depicted Marian themes, including several of the visions of St Bernadette, which would have been almost contemporary when they were installed. There were numerous wall paintings, themed around the seven joys and sorrows of Mary. Then there was the music – Mr O'Sea had a wonderful voice, and my time was divided between rapture and bewilderment at his pronounciation. I don't speak Gaelic and spent quite some time trying to work out the rules. Less good was the crowding and the babies – the prayers of the faithful were actually inaudible.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Simply presented novus ordo, celebrated at the nave altar facing the people (which, thanks to the building's orientation, actually meant the clergy were facing southward). The bishop wore a plain purple chasuble of Gothic cut and a mitre simplex with magnificent fanons. He had succumbed to the solecism of wearing his pectoral cross outside the chazzie, the sight of which made me mentally tut-tut. The concelebrants wore white chasubles, Gothic again, with simple green crosses front and back – modelled on shamrocks, appropriately enough! The only other members of the sanctuary party were two boys who acted as taperers and servers, who were improbably dressed in hooded cassock-albs (albeit of a bright blue shade), and a thurifer dressed in a good plain cotta. The use of incense was restrained, and only the anthems were sung.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The bishop's adress was thoughtful and extemporised. I was impressed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text was the raising of Lazarus (gospel for Lent V). Bishop McMahon compared this to the whole of Lent – rebirth through Christ, as at baptism. He also compared it to the travails of the Irish people and hope for their future. Overall, a very optimistic sermon – as the bishop said, "Lent is a happy time, a good time for following Jesus Christ." But then he also pointed out that "you don't need much of an excuse to celebrate when you're Irish."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A churchful of souls singing "On Erin's Green Valleys". I nearly cried, as did many people around me.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, the usual lack of Catholic participation in the hymns. Oh, and that cursed modern translation of the Nicene Creed they insist on using. Not exactly hellish, but after communion (ministered only in one kind) I had a bit of trouble regaining my seat. Also, why oh why were there two potted plants on the high altar? I can't imagine Pugin being very happy about this.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much hanging around to do – the congregation were setting straight off back for the assembly rooms, again led by the pipers.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
"Further refreshment" at the Irish Centre was promised for later, followed by a party of Gaelic music in the parish hall. Had I not been dashing off for the railway station, I could have spent the rest of the day toasting St Patrick amply.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Coming partly from Irish immigrant stock, I felt quite emotionally aroused by it all. But even though the service was wonderful, I think I feel that it's time to move on.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely, yes!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The powerful sense of community, national as much as religious.
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