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Sunday Mass at St Luke's and St Teresa's - Catholic Worship

Thursday 1 January 1970, 01:00
By John Baxter

Father LouisIt was the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the Church's year when I attended Mass at St Luke and St Teresa's Church in Wincanton. The Church is a handsome airy building in early medieval friary style with white painted walls which keeps the interior light. The focus is the altar, and the Rood Cross ( a large crucifix) hanging above it, but there are two side chapels, one dedicated to Mary "Our Lady" and the other to St Joseph.

The Joseph chapel houses the musicians with their electronic keyboard, two flutes and a violin. This unusual combination I thought worked beautifully, for they were played skilfully and produced a great sound to lead the singing.

Behind the altar stands the tabernacle in which reserved Hosts (fine, white wafers) consecrated during the celebration of the Mass are kept. To Catholics, the Hosts are as Father Louis says, "Christ truly, Christ present in our midst," and are distributed to the sick in their homes by both priests and special ministers should the need arise.

The Church building is however about to undergo a major refurbishment so from the beginning of January until Holy Week (just before the Easter celebrations) the weekday Mass will be celebrated in the large parish room towards the rear of the buildings and Sunday Mass will be celebrated at Our Lady's School.

Anyone who has attended an Anglican Sung Eucharist would be surprised to find that the whole service is extremely similar, apart from a reference to Pope Benedict and the use of a prayer addressed to Mary (The Hail Mary). Both Anglicans and Catholics now use modern English and modern Bible translations.

Before the service proper started Father Louis came out to lead the congregation in a little singing practice. He has a happy, relaxed manner and a good singing voice and everyone joined in enthusiastically. The hymn was a modern one with a chorus looking forward to the coming of Christmas. He also explained that the bishop has now relaxed the restriction imposed on the reception of the chalice during Mass because of the Swine Flu epidemic. He went on to emphasise that in receiving Communion one is not just eating a wafer and sipping some wine, but receiving the body and blood of Christ, a sign of his living presence among us.

Father Louis then left to put on the penitential purple chasuble worn during Advent. Priests have worn these caftan-like robes since early Roman times and the colour purple, is used only during Lent and Advent as a sign of preparation. He returned, lead by a young teenage girl altar server in a cream robe (an alb) carrying a cross. As they processed in everyone joined them in singing the hymn with the chorus we had practiced.

There followed readings from the scriptures, one from the Old Testament and one from the epistles or letters of Paul which were read by members of the congregation. Farther Louis, then read the Gospel. The Gospel was followed by a sermon (or homily) in which he emphasised that the essence of Christianity is love and compassion, the love and compassion of God shown in Jesus, and the love we should show for each other.

He reflected that the celebration of Christmas has become so focused on material things that the event has become little more than an excuse for self-indulgence and shopping, an event where getting not giving is all many think about. This is because thanksgiving for the presence of Christ in the Mass is unknown or forgotten by so many. This he suggested actually takes the fun and joy out of Christmas which is really only there if we remember the real cause for celebration. He suggested, quoting GK Chesterton, that if we spent but a minute a day doing this, we would have a real reason for enjoying Christmas and all that goes with it.

The service continued with prayers for everyone (prayers of intercession) from the sick to pregnant women lead again by a member of the congregation, and more singing and chanting lead by Father Louis and the musicians. The responses to the prayers were strong and the atmosphere was reverend, relaxed and joyful. After the sermon the children who had been taken off for a special "children's liturgy" came back and when it was time to say the Lord's Prayer they all came up to the altar and holding hands with Father Louis and each other recited it together. It seemed very personal and certainly got them all involved. It was followed by the "sign of the peace" in which everyone turned to those around them to shake hands, smile and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you always."

The story of The Last Supper was re-enacted with the blessing of the bread and the wine in the prayer of consecration. Almost everyone came up to the altar to receive communion, and the chalices containing wine were administered by three special ministers. The service ended with a surprisingly enthusiastic rendition of "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine." as Father Louis, lead by his altar server, processed to the door. Then everyone was talking to their neighbours and streaming out to greet each other and Father Louis.

Visiting St Luke's with its congregation of around eighty that day with its spread of people of every age and its warm, friendly atmosphere certainly gave me the impression that here is a lively and enthusiastic community who find in this act of worship something of enormous value in the living of their lives.

John Baxter


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