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558: Brompton Oratory, South Kensington, London
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Brompton Oratory, South Kensington, London
Mystery Worshipper: Newman's Own.
The church: Brompton Oratory, South Kensington, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: A powerful, if slightly overwhelming, combination of the baroque and the austere. For example, though there are many side altars and statues of saints (including a brass one of Peter, its big toe well worn from loyal kisses), there is no excessive sentimentality, and no statues which are not marble or metal.
The church: Brompton Oratory provides a good many worship services, in styles ranging from old rite to solemn high Latin Sunday mass to simple daily low mass. It also offers various educational programmes. The priests may not be as generally engaging and charming as I have heard the Oratory's founder, Filippo Neri, was (though I doubt Fr. Faber was, either). But they are straightforward in teaching and very available.
The neighbourhood: The Oratory is located in about as interesting a neighbourhood as one could find anywhere. It is directly on the "museum row", with the V&A, Natural History, and Science Museums; and a stone's throw from Harrods and other exclusive shops.
The cast: Names were not provided.
What was the name of the service?
Mass for the feast of the ascension.

How full was the building?
The church proper indeed was bulging, pews filled and extra chairs in the side aisles, particularly because school children were attending this mass en masse.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The ushers were busily trying to find seats for us adults/latecomers. While the lady who assisted me was very helpful in leading me directly to a chair, there was no time for more than a quick good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?
I rested on a wooden chair which was comfortable, though a bit creaky.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived just in time for the service, so I could not say.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Brompton Oratory hymnal and service book.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The male choir was excellent.

Did anything distract you?
I have no addiction whatever to the company of the young, and was slightly uneasy – though I must say that this was as well behaved a crowd of adolescents as I have seen.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very dignified Roman rite – probably what the Vatican Council fathers had in mind when the new rite was developed. Some ordinaries and propers were chanted by the choir in Latin; kneeling is standard for communion; congregational singing was especially enthusiastic for this denomination.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About eight minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Recalling that the majority of the congregation were adolescent, the preacher showed a fine technique in being humorous and engaging without any compromise of dignity. For example, following a wry comment about how we know perfectly well that heaven is not "up", he explained well that the concept of a world above was common in the first century, and that Jesus, in all his teaching, whether by word or gesture, set forth truths by adapting to the knowledge and culture of those around him.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ascension as a great miracle which both exalted our human nature and reminded us that we are Christ's ambassadors on earth. Reference to the "Go ye therefore and teach all nations" text from the gospel in this context.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful sight of seeing some (adult) worshippers sneaking into the side chapels for a visit to their favourite shrines.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had spent the earlier part of the day reviewing notes for a Liturgical Studies exam, and this probably was why, throughout this service, I could not help but remember that tabernacles (and the Oratory has an ample one!) are not supposed to be in the centre of the altar. What was so hellish was realizing what a snob I must be at heart.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The commotion of the exiting young people and the elderly trying to work in a visit to the favourite saint afterward presented an atmosphere where I doubt John Paul himself would have been noticed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None – though there is at Sunday services.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The services are generally too long and elaborate for my tastes, though I like them as an occasional treat.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – and glad to see so many devout young Christians who are a promise for the church of the future.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The connection of the ascension and our deification.
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