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2659: Shrine Church of Saints Peter, Paul and Philomena, New Brighton, Wirral, England
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Mystery Worshipper: Don Bosco.
The church: Shrine Church of Saints Peter, Paul and Philomena, New Brighton, Wirral, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic. In October 2011, administration of the church was assumed by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right whose mother house is in Italy.
The building: The building is vast, set high on the top of a hill overlooking the Wirral. It is topped by a characteristic dome, and was lovingly termed "the Dome of Home" by sailors out at sea looking for the coast. The building has a unique monstrance used for adoration and benediction, which rises from behind the altar in a specially constructed lift.
The church: The building is a shrine church established by the Bishop of Shrewsbury after the building had been closed for some years. This shrine is to foster a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The liturgy is said in Latin, with all sacraments administered according to the extraordinary form outlined in the 1962 Missal. The newsletter promotes their choir, catechism talks, and other spiritual and fundraising activities that take place throughout the week.
The neighbourhood: Mainly a residential area, there is a mixture of larger Victorian houses with smaller working-class terraced homes. There are several attractions, notably the Mini Railway, the Fort Perch Rock, and a lighthouse.
The cast: The newsletter indicates the Revd Canon Amaury Montjean is the rector. I presume he was the celebrant. No other names were provided. An unnamed deacon preached.
The date & time: Septuagesima Sunday, 16 February 2014, 11.30am.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Mass.

How full was the building?
Around 100 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived 45 minutes early, so not a soul was to be seen. Fifteen minutes before mass, I had a few weak and uncertain smiles from one or two people as I looked around. I imagine the elderly congregation didn't know quite how to greet a twenty-something visitor.

Was your pew comfortable?
A perfectly adequate wooden pew with comfortable kneelers. Normally this is no problem, but throughout this mass it certainly was (more later).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Absolute silence, broken only by a malfunctioning sound system and the musicians practicing in the gallery.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor" (You shall sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed) was intoned after the priest reached the altar.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
I had helped myself to a hymn book (Hymns Old and New). Knowing this was a mass in the extraordinary form and entirely in Latin, I had brought my own 1962 Missal. The church provides slimline editions by the Latin Mass Society, which one is forbidden under pain of all sorts of dire penalties to remove from the church.

What musical instruments were played?
An acceptable electric organ (I believe their "real" organ is in a sorry state, waiting to be restored).

Did anything distract you?
The building was positively Arctic with a capital A! I have never been so freezing inside a building! It was so cold I really struggled to pray. In the extraordinary form, one spends a great deal of time kneeling, so even though I had warmed my little spot nicely, it soon cooled the moment I knelt down, greeting me with a cold snap when I returned to a seated position.

Dome of Home, New Brighton (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Epitome of Roman Catholicism: very high church, done perfectly with no fuss! The mass was exclusively in Latin, with only the homily in English. Everything audible was sung. Candles and incense were used; bells rang at appropriate times; the celebrant wore a beautiful violet chasuble with maniple, biretta, and lace alb. Signs of the cross, bowing, and genuflections abounded.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The reverend deacon preached well. He read his homily fluently from a script, and despite a broken sound system I was able to hear the majority of what he said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on the gospel, which had just been chanted in Latin: the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). The Church is the vineyard and we are all the labourers. We all receive the gift of eternal life if we are faithful to God and the teachings of the One True Church. The early Christians were much like the workers who feel disgruntled at being paid the same as those workers who did less work than they, in that they were appalled that new Christians could be baptised without previously adhering to the law of Moses. God gives us all our deserving reward in his just mercy and judgement, irregardless of when we start to follow his teachings fully in this life. We should lament and pray for those who do not follow him at all!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When visiting churches, my heart is usually pounding when it comes to receiving communion, as I always receive kneeling and on the tongue. This usually results in my being stared at. Here, everyone received communion this way. And there was no communal sign of peace, which is always a blessing!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The extraordinary form seems to attract an odd lot. The people did not sing the parts that pertained to them, and I had a constant feeling that I was sitting in someone else's spot. I had invaded an exclusive club, despite knowing the liturgy inside out.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Absolutely nothing. I was thoroughly ignored despite doing my best to make plain I hadn't a clue what was happening. Nobody even moved out of my way to let me get through the door once I gave up. Anonymous Catholicism at its best.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No idea. I guess there was none. I had traveled two hours to attend mass and would have deeply appreciated a hello or something warm after being in such a cold building for so long. The example of hospitality set by St Francis de Sales, who is very important to the Institute, must be lost on this congregation.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I have a great affinity for the extraordinary form, and the liturgy here is beautiful. I can tolerate a cold building and frosty people, but not at the same time. I am deeply disappointed and gobsmacked with how unintentionally rude the congregation and priests were.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not at all. A great shame, as I had very very high hopes. Maybe one day I shall give this place another go, but I shan't go out of my way to do it.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The valiant efforts by the choir, organist, and very loud soprano to sound tuneful; and the inaudible singing of the celebrant. And the congregation adopting the same stance as the building: high up on the hill, looking down on everything below it.
 
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