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Behind the Scenes at Mass

June 12, 2009

14_TorchbearersI wonder how many people realize the extent of “stage management” that goes into the production of a High Mass such as we have just celebrated at St Clement’s for the Feast of Corpus Christi? I use the phrase “stage management” quite deliberately, because the Mass is a drama and has to be planned carefully and executed with reverence and precision, just like a play on the stage of a theatre.

Let me try to list all the elements that went into last night’s Mass to demonstrate how many different people worked hard to make it the worthy vehicle of “the beauty of holiness” which it was. I’m sure to miss some out, so apologies before I begin!

First, the remote preparation. Flowers were bought from the wholesale flower market before the sun was even up. They were then arranged into three great displays: one at the altar, with gold Gerber daisies shining through masses of Queen Anne Lace (or Our Lady’s Lace, which was the English pre-Reformation name); one colourful mixture at the statue of Our Lady of Clemency; and two big displays in front of the Choir. 

Then the vestments had to be laid out: a High Mass set for the Sacred Ministers, four copes for the canopy bearers, two copes for cantors, another cope for the celebrant in the procession plus a dozen lace cottas for servers, and finally some extra chasubles for the priests in Choir which they wore during the procession.

Then the great variety of paraphernalia for the Mass, Procession and Benediction: chalices and ciboria, four-poled canopy and ombrellino, two thuribles, reliquary covers (for Benediction), humeral veils, monstrance, etc, etc. This takes much time and planning, but by the beginning of the Mass, everything is in its place.

The choir rehearsed for an hour and a half before the Mass and then sang a wonderful mixture of Mozart and Elgar, accompanied by a string orchestra. The men of the choir chanted the Latin propers as well as I have heard in many a Benedictine abbey.  Other members of the congregation monitored the recording equipment so that the music and sermon could be posted on our web site, and our web-master took pictures all through the two hour ceremony. 

At the back of the church, several members welcomed visitors and handed out leaflets printed and assembled days before. Think of the hours of work that took. And upstairs, other members of the congregation prepared food and drink for the reception which followed the Mass. And, by no means least, Fr Mead, the preacher, preached a fine sermon on the Blessed Sacrament. That also takes much preparation. 

I hope all this hasn’t bored you – all I wanted to do was to lay out all that went into the Corpus Christi Mass, as a way of thanking the dozens of people whose work made it possible. It is also a reminder to me never to take all this devotion for granted. Hundreds of people come to St Clement’s and many of them tell me that the High Mass on such a day as Corpus Christi helps their prayer-life forward and inspires them to go back into their daily lives determined to be better Christians by  redoubling their efforts to love their neighbour.

If that is true – and I have seen good evidence that it is – then the hours of preparation and attention to detail have all been well spent in the service of the Gospel.

Of course, you still may not know the difference between a maniple and a monstrance, but that’s not my fault – and God doesn’t mind!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. David O'Rourke permalink
    June 13, 2009 5:22 am

    Father, you mention the food “upstairs”. My memories of Corpus Christi at St. Clement’s include a torchlite feast in the gardens. To lose that would be at least as bad as losing “Clear Vault of Heaven” before the sermon which I gagther has happened.

    When I first encountered that hymn, paging through the leaflet before my first Mass at St. Clemnt’s, I felt a sense of foreboding. No schlock for me. I wanted the hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas sung, if not to plainchant to solid classical tunes.

    Several hours later after Mass and the Procession as well as the reception in the garden, I found myself settling down in my room at the old St. Anna’s (my room was Saint Cecilia) humming “Clear Vault of Heaven” and looking up the leaflet for the words. When the hymn was still going though my mind the next day I decided that maybe I had been a bit of a snob and that I needed to revisit my views about hymns.

    I still believe in hymns with good solid tunes and good theological content but I now believe there is room for a little good “schmaltz”. I assure you this does not include such evangelical hymns as “O what a Friend we have in Jesus” or “How Great Thou art” which would have been sung at my Father’s funeral Mass had not my mother fortunately forgotten to ask.

    Nor does it include an old st. Cldemt’s hymn, “There’s a Church in the Village” which is awash in semi-tones and quite exhausting to sing. Ifit is no longer sung and hyou don’t recognizeit ask Larry Reilly. He can tell you.

    Over time during visits to St. Clements I would hear “”Ave Maria O Maiden O Mother” as well as “The Happy Birds Te Deum Sing”. Because of my position in the SOM in Toronto I was able to get them into the repertoire up here, at least for SOM events incljuding the May Festival.

    Now I just have to find an excuse to introduce “On our Day of Thanksgiving” sung to St. Catherine’s Court. I don’t think it really qualifies as schmaltz but I love it dearly. I just don’t know how to fit it into a Marion context.

    • June 14, 2009 12:54 am

      Gosh, David, I love “What a friend” and (to a lesser extent) “How great thou art.” I even picked up a taste for “I need thee every hour” at the St Michael’s Youth Conference!

  2. Paul Goings permalink
    June 13, 2009 11:30 pm


    Well, we were upstairs this year because of the rain, which rather makes for an unpleasant garden party.

    We have “Clear Vault of Heaven” during communion, although we might have had it before the sermon at some point.

    I think that “There’s a Church in a Village” has been retired for the foreseeable future; it doesn’t have much of a constituency, although it doesn’t grate on my nerves, as it seems to in many cases. Likewise, “There was a time in England.”

    • David O'Rourke permalink
      June 13, 2009 11:55 pm

      What? No more “There was a time in England?” How ominously the organ used to rumble at the verse, “Then came the unblievers.”

      You had rain for Corpus Christi? Always a shame. I don’t know about you folks down there but this June has beenmore like April up here.

      Good to hear from you, Paul.

  3. David O'Rourke permalink
    June 14, 2009 1:32 am

    P.S. I wouldn’t weep over the loss of “There’s a Cchurch in the Village” Neither, as I remember, would Larry Reilly. It is fascinating however how many twists and turns it makes.

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