Last Sunday, the third Sunday of Eastertide, the Bishop of Amiens celebrated Mass in the parish at St Peter’s, Pont Remy. It was a very happy occasion for us, and the people had worked hard getting everything ready. The chorale had chosen well known hymns (even I knew them, which is a good test) and rehearsed on Saturday afternoon. With the singers from both Long and Pont Remy they made a joyful sound. The sanctuary at Pont Remy had been enriched with some splendid red curtains (the fabric a present from our kind parish in Germany) and a re-furbished Paschal candlestick found in the sacristy at Long.
Monseigneur Olivier Leborgne has just celebrated two years as Bishop of Amiens. This is not an easy diocese, and he made it clear in his homily that increasing the number of priests is key to the renewal of Christian life in France. This is in no way to devalue the vocation of the laity: indeed, next Sunday we hold a major consultation to set up our ‘Equipe de Conduite Pastorale’, through which the lay people exercise key roles in the witness and ministry of each parish. In the Ordinariate such a team or council is obligatory – part of our Anglican Patrimony – and it will be a great relief to me to have such a team to work with.
But open churches, kept clean and tidy, with the Blessed Sacrament reserved wherever possible, within which is celebrated worship as good as we can make it – often moves people and kindles their interest. The fact that we have neither pots of money nor large numbers of people is no excuse for not doing the very best we can.
It is part of our Anglican heritage, I think, to have a concern for the beauty of worship and the care of the buildings in which the liturgy is performed. This can sometimes lead to too much time being spent on buildings and in the sacristy. But obsessive fussiness about points of liturgy in some clergy and lay people does not excuse careless or sloppy worship. I have made the point before that the absence of minute details from the rubrics of the Mass since 1970 means that priests (and servers and other ministers) have to have much better liturgical education. It is not much use knowing when the seventh candle should be used on the altar (we didn’t use it, by the way) if you are constantly distracting the people during the readings by fiddling with the thurible! (Yes, I have seen it – too often).
But in the end it will be the beauty of the lives of ordinary Christian people lived in service, their voices raised in worship, filled with the love of Jesus the Son of God, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, which will draw and convert others. It seems to me to be one of the key roles of the priest to inspire his people in their mission, to deepen their worship and prayer, to teach and help them to grow in understanding of the Christian Faith, and to develop with them effective skills for sharing and commending this Faith to others.
It was good to have the Bishop with us.