That was Omagh, 1956. And me!
I have some dear friends who are Catholic (you know who you are) and we pray for each other. I find myself looking forward to attending Mass with them, and I look forward to them coming here and attending my church too. We are more conscious of our fellowship than any denominational differences. Both live ‘up north’ so our correspondence is via email and blogs, but we are warm and fond and a bit soppy. One I have known for 40 years (!) and one just for a year or so (and we’ve never met).
I was brought up in a Catholic family, Irish Catholic in fact. When I was about ten I went to live with my dad who had been educated at a seminary, and his new wife who was a very very devout convert. I went to a Catholic convent. So I am, or was, steeped in the liturgy, the theology, the ritual. It was my spiritual and emotional home until I walked away from Catholicism in my late teens and I have no desire to return to it, but I would like to know what my two pals are praying for, where they are in their prayer life, to walk alongside them. So, I had the bright idea of buying a Missal, to read it on a Sunday morning perhaps, before I attend my own church.
Wow. I hadn’t any idea how foreign the liturgy would now seem to me. How complicated what was once as natural to me as breathing has become. I remember attending Mass and knowing exactly where to turn in the missal, where the Mass was going, where there would be a prayer in Latin, a prayer in English, the Kyrie in Greek…. But now…. I am perplexed. I thought the liturgy had been simplified by going from the Latinate Mass to the English, but not so!
For you sturdily protestant readers, I should explain what a missal is. It’s a book which enables the worshipper to follow the Mass (the service of worship) and to join in with the priest and the prayers. It’s a bit like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer but a tad more complicated. The structure of the Mass is unchanging, the culmination being the Holy Eucharist, but the Bible readings and prayers are varied. Every Sunday there is a different emphasis on the teaching, and there are (I think) three patterns throughout the year, so that it can be year A, B or C.
When I went onto Amazon , wanting to find the best version of the missal to buy, I was stunned by some of the reviews – listen to just 5 of them:
…the Canon of the Mass, the Preface, and the Eucharistic Prayer of the day have to be hunted down with frantic page turning. Since few churches seem to announce which Preface or Eucharistic Prayer is being said, this is very distracting… the problem was bad in the old New Order English language missals. It is even more baffling now.
It was only when reading the additional material, and looking through the book I started getting an understanding of the way the 3 cycles are constructed,
Takes a little getting used to ….you will also need the Weekday Missal (as I have purchased) for Masses during the week & Saturday morning.
It would have got 5 full stars from me if it was a lot easier to determine what year of mass to follow – A, B or C.
One thing I wish with missals is a simpler way to ‘find your way’ during Mass, I took this missal to church last Sunday and despite having all the ribbons in -what I thought were- all the right places, I still had to leaf through it constantly to catch up with the priest.
Flip me! I’m shattered by how foreign it has all become. How my memory has slipped. Last week I recommended a short story by D H Lawrence to some friends and, belatedly, having done so I decided to read it again. It was a part of my O level studies I think, and it had a lasting effect on me. I understood even then that it was more powerful to me than to my classmates because there I was, a slum kid from Lancashire, damaged and struggling, in a quasi-posh English Convent, and this short story was all about a mining family in the East Midlands. It was redolent of where I came from, in my case the Irish Catholic community in a mining town in Lancashire. The story made me feel less alone in the yellow stone, gracious world of Bath, with its veneer of respectability. Anyway, last week I recommended the story first and re-read it second, and I was amazed by how much I had forgotten, by how stilted the language seemed, how linear the story was. I was bored by it! And then I came to the ending and it came to life. Roared into life. The ending is wonderful. The writing is heart breaking, honest, stark. And I remembered afresh that I am not alone in the world, that others have been where I have been and seen what I have seen. D H Lawrence took me to a place of – what? Reassurance? Yes, reassurance that I was not alone in my experiences, in my thoughts and emotions, in the depth of them, in their complete contrast to the calm, stately and respectable face of Bath and my new family’s middle-class aspirations. It showed me that we all have an internal life that cannot be shared but that we yearn to share, and that the only way to even attempt to share it is by searing honesty. Maybe that’s what I have been trying to do ever since. Honesty that makes you vulnerable, open, naked to the world. Honesty in writing comes at a cost. (But that’s another blog, some other time.)
Last year I delivered a meals-on-wheels dinner to a very elderly priest, a sweet man who is well loved and full of sparkling fun and wit even now. He asked me my name and having been told he said ‘Lucy Gannon! Lucy Gannon! And what’s a good Catholic girl like you doing in a Baptist church?’
He recognised the Irishness of the name, maybe I also look Irish, and the Gannons used to be a well known Catholic clan. I just looked at this lovely old man and I loved him. It was like I was seeing in him the Mum I can’t remember, the grandparents I never knew, the love I missed out on. I just blessed the man. We had a very brief chat (two other meals to deliver) and he asked me why I had left the Catholic Church. I told him, without even having to think about it ‘Purgatory, prayers for the dead, transubstantiation and confession.’
‘Ah’, he said ‘Quite right too,’
You know, I loved that he knew me by my name, that he knew where I’d come from, that he recognised my past, divined what had shaped me. I have left the liturgy behind, and the doctrine, but I can’t deny my history. Even as I gaze, perplexed, at the pages of a missal, I am reunited with the little girl who, aged 8, looked for God. And I know He found me then and has been with me ever since. And whatever I believe, whatever my Catholic friends believe, however we worship… He knows who we are, what has shaped us and He hears us.
We need to be understood. Maybe that’s what we search for all our lives. To be understood, flaws and all, and accepted anyway. And the only one who can do that fully is God. It’s not as complicated as we make it. God doesn’t need our missals, our rituals, our outward-signs-of-inward-grace, He sees the lie in all of it. He sees the lie in me, and He accepts me anyway. He wants nothing, just nothing, but our love.
WOWZER!!!!! As I wrote that last line, an email pinged in, from one of my Northern Catholic pals. Here it is:
Dear Luce , just read Psalm 64 and brought you mind with your glorious morning walks and praise of God in the wonders of nature . Am off to mass at noon , will be praying for your special intention . Godbless you today darling Lucy ,
How amazing is God’s love that it can reach across the miles, the years, and the dogma, and the ritual and all the trappings of man made religion, to unite our hearts? Isn’t that what Jesus wants more than anything? How amazing that He can see beyond the obvious and say ‘Lucy Gannon! Ahhh….. Lucy Gannon.’ and in His eyes, regardless of all my history, I am wanted.