"Happy Birthday" sang the gathered crowds at the reception that followed the service of Solemn Evensong, Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction on Sunday night at St James's. There was indeed a feeling of joy and celebration, and the exuberant and spontaneous (if arguably not totally successful) attempt to sing "Happy Birthday, Dear Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham" was proof of that.
One can certainly understand why. The success of Sunday night exceeded all expectations.
Earlier in the week, we made reference to the difficulty of planning for a service when we genuinely had no idea how many people would attend. The number of orders of services printed was based solely on the number of gift aid envelopes we happened to have in stock (281). The quantities of food and wine were decided on the basis of a guess that 200 of the 281 would come downstairs to the St James's Social Centre to join the reception, noting that Tesco on Marylebone High Street was moments away should the bar run dry and Monsignor Newton's powers to replicate the stock management practices at the Wedding at Cana not prove up to the task.
Setting up the sanctuary after the St James's 4pm parish mass, it was very clear to all involved that there were going to be far more people there than we had dared think possible. Our estimations had gone from 100 in pessimistic moments to 300 in what we thought were wildly optimistic moments.
In fact, there were close to 500 people present, filling up the central section of St James's, all the way from the altar rails to the back of church, with some considerable spillover into the side aisles. Fr Colven, the Rector of St James's, watched proceedings from the triforium, and attempted to count the numbers present : he stopped counting sometime after 400, so our estimates seem to be about right.
The beautiful pictures in this Flickr set give some sense of the scale of the event, as well as of the beauty of the liturgy and of St James's church. We intend to post some further pictures of the service, as well of the reception, later in the week.
What was also wonderful was that the congregation was genuinely a mix of people, many Ordinariate members of course, but also a large number of Anglicans and a large number of non-Ordinariate Catholics. In particular, we were delighted to see a good number of people from St James's who had come to learn more about the Ordinariate. One of them had turned up at exactly 5pm expecting to be able to take her pick of seats, not being aware that attendance might be high : she said to me afterwards that on arrival it had felt almost like Christmas Eve, both in terms of the numbers and in terms of the sense of anticipation.
That the congregation was made up of these different groups, all coming together through the Ordinariate, was extremely pleasing. How appropriate that this mix of people should gather to celebrate a movement that is at is heart built on a call to the unity for which Christ prayed on the night that He was betrayed.
We only wish that every one of those, whether Catholics or Anglicans, who do not yet understand the value or purpose of the Ordinariate could have been there to witness the occasion. This truly was an example of Anglican Patrimony meeting Catholic practice, with the most pleasing results on both sides. The wisdom of the Holy Father in launching Anglicanorum Coetibus was perfectly visible on Sunday night.
Monsignor Newton's sermon can be found here.
Fr Edwin Barnes won the prize for being the first of the well-known bloggers to post on the subject of last night. This is all the more impressive as he led a coach trip of Ordinariate members from Bournemouth and Salisbury to be with us, so it must have been a rather tiring day. Here is his report, and I do hope Fr Barnes will not mind if we steal one of his photos to head up this blogpost.
Another of his pictures, which he posted on the Anglo-Catholic blog, shows Mgr Newton in conversation in the sacristy with the Rector of St James's, Fr Christopher Colven, who kindly allowed us the use of his church and was extremely welcoming and patient with us at all times.
Other internet reports are now starting to appear. We note a very positive report on the well known blog A Reluctant Sinner, which has some kind words to say about how Sunday night, among other things, helped to explain to non-Ordinariate Catholics some of the gifts that the Ordinariate, with its Anglican Patrimony, brings with it into the Catholic Church.
Fr Ed Tomlinson reports here.
The Tablet has reported on the event here.
The music was, as ever, of the very highest standard. Thanks are due to Dr Terry Worroll (Director of Music) and Iestyn Evans (Organist) for their part in that, thanks also to the choir of St James's, who with Terry and Iestyn were pleased to have had the chance to sing a very different repertoire from their usual fare. Many in the congregation commented on how nice it was to hear Anglican Chant being sung for the psalms, with the opportunity it gives the organ to show off its full tone palette. Although everyone, of course, enjoyed the Introit being Parry's I was Glad, some seemed particularly to like the way that the grand musica anglicana finally gave way in the Tantum Ergo to the beautiful unaccompanied setting of that text by Déodat de Séverac, the perfect prelude to the Benediction that was to follow moments later.
Thanks are also due to John and Paul, of the St James's serving team, who helped us out not only by being acolytes, but by guiding us around the sacristy to make sure we could find all the things we needed.
The format of the liturgy will have been familiar to the many in the congregation who had in the past witnessed similar celebrations at St Mary's Bourne St, with a few variations in the order of Evensong so as to match the order approved by Rome for use in the Ordinariate. The Procession of the Blessed Sacrament involved around 30 people, and managed to weave its way around church in a very dignified manner, with the canopy being carried by Knights of Malta. Working out the order of the procession when the man who wrote the rule book on such things was going to be present (Bishop Peter Elliott) was a daunting task, but I am happy to report that I heard no complaints.
One of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group commented to me that hearing the sacring bell sound in the distance as the procession continued, getting further away and moving round the church was immensely powerful. This was the first time I had heard (well, it was me doing the ringing) a sacring bell being used in procession in a church on St James's scale, and I can quite imagine that the sound could have had quite an impressive effect as the procession moved around.
It was an honour to have Bishop Peter Elliott (the Holy See's Delegate for the Ordinariate being established in Australia) present, as it was to have His Excellency Fra' Duncan Gallie (Chancellor of the Grand Priory of England, Sovereign Military Order of Malta) and Monsignor John Armitage (Vicar-General, Diocese of Brentwood) there. It was equally an honour for members of the Ordinariate to be present together with each other, with our Ordinary, Monsignor Newton, and with so many friends and supporters to mark this great day.
Thanks to Monsignor Newton for leading us through both Sunday night and the past year, to Fr Christopher Colven for his hospitality and forbearance, to Sister Catherine in the St James's Social Centre, to Fr Christopher Pearson for his inspired idea of holding an anniversary Evensong and Benediction, and to all those who helped out on the night (not least those from the London (South) Ordinariate Group, without whose fantastic help the reception would have been far harder work for those of us from the Marylebone Group). This was a great team effort, and it is exactly in this spirit of joyful co-operation that all of us in the Ordinariate intend to carry on, following the Holy Father's call to follow Our Lord's prayer for Unity.