Tuesday 17 March 2015

The Restoration Reaches Dundee

Good morning! It is Traddy Tuesday, the day I trumpet the beauties of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and other traditional Catholic liturgies and devotions. I do this not as a "liturgy nerd" but as an ordinary Ordinary Form Catholic who married a liturgy nerd.

Of course, I am delighted to have "married into" the Traditional Latin Mass, for my advanced theological education--I read a lot of Aquinas--left me impatient with the average English-language Sunday Novus Ordo. Before I met Benedict Ambrose, I was bouncing between German Mass (consolation of no English), my university church (consolation of a good organist) and the "Praise and Worship" service at the Newman (guilty pleasure in drums and joyous caterwauling).  But now I have the Mass of Ages, plus Polish Mass if I can't get to it.

Benedict Ambrose is from Dundee, and I rejoiced when I heard our FSSP priest say "Let us go to the House of the Lord" in Dundee. Actually, that's not what he said, but I couldn't resist. And I can't think of a better Sunday for Father to have said the EF in Dundee than Laetare Sunday, for Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday, the British Mother's Day. For centuries, Mothering Sunday was the day people in the British Isles went back to their home dioceses and brought their mothers a present, traditionally a simnel cake. This is why the third Sunday of Lent is our Mother's Day.  B.A.'s Scottish mother still lives in Dundee, so for the first time we could visit her and still get to the TLM afterwards.

Photo Eddie Mahoney
The Mass was held at 4 PM at Saint Joseph's Convent Chapel. It is a half hour walk uphill from the centre of Dundee. And when B.A. and I got there at about 3:50 PM, a wonderful sight met our eyes: full pews. We had to sit in the little stalls along the side. More and more people arrived, and afterwards B.A. and friends agreed that over 100 people had filled the chapel: perhaps as many as 120 or more.

The chapel itself was very suited to traditional worship, for it is cruciform and the old altar was still there, looking very beautiful.  B.A. says the carpet deadened everything, but I thought the big congregation positively raised the roof with our responses.

Bishop Robson presided at Mass from his throne in choir to the left side of the altar (from my point of view), accompanied by two youngish priests in proper choir dress, black pompoms on their birettas and all.  Our FSSP priest processed in behind three university-age altar servers and our grizzled MC. In the very back there was an organist, and a singing pair of newlyweds: a male Gregorian Chant enthusiast and his wife, a supremely talented soprano. She sang Franck's "Panis Angelicus" during the Communion of the Faithful.

There were two African nuns on hand to keep an eye on us all.

Bishop Robson gave a very good homily on the Gospel and Laetare Sunday before addressing the whole subject of the Traditional Mass, which I thought was meet and right.  And when Mass was over, and we were at our private prayers of thanksgiving, Bishop Robson went back up to the sanctuary to address us from the steps and admire us all for coming.  I waited with bated breath for applause, but there was none, so well-trained are we against applause in church. (I feel that we need some way to respond, however. Perhaps we could wave handkerchiefs?)

Bishop Robson observed that we were not all oldies, but in a diplomatic way that would not have hurt an oldy's feeling, and this was quite true. The congregation was of all ages, ranging from toddler to elderly, with a good solid representation of twenty-somethings among the middle-aged. A naughty young curly-headed miss whined quite audibly, but not incessantly, during Mass, and a number of children and teenagers could be seen playing up on the lawn while their parents chatted outside the chapel.

I could say that for an hour and half, it looked as if the old Catholic world had returned to Dundee: a church packed with the Catholic faithful, the ancient Mass sung by a priest while a bishop and two other priests watched from the choir, young men as altar servers, only one toddler permitted to yell,  nuns in habit, ladies in lace (or not--and women's covered heads at Mass in 1962 was not as universal as you might think ), Gregorian Chant, "Panis Angelicus", etc.

However, that would be looking backwards at a Dundee I never actually knew. I was born in the 1970s, and never set foot in Scotland until 1975.  Instead I will say that it looked as if a new chapter in the Church in Dundee had opened. I don't want to be too dramatic about this; after all, a fair number of people had come from outside Dundee. But many were from St Andrews, where there is a TLM only once a month, so it is safe to assume that many of them will continue to attend a once-a-month TLM in Dundee.

It was such a great joy to listen to a bishop who so took to heart what Benedict XVI said in "Summorum Pontificum." I am sure my gratitude was shared by many, many people there, especially the elderly ones who almost despaired of seeing a bishop preside over the "Old Mass" again. We are very lucky or, I suppose I should say, very blessed in Scotland to have Bishop Robson.


  1. Everything about this sounds great to me except for the bit about Franck's 'Panis Angelicus'. I wonder when people will realise that there are other settings of that text. I asked an engaged friend about the music she is having at her wedding. The answers? Panis Angelicus (*slams head on desk*); Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (*double slam*); Pachelbel's Canon (*triple slam*); the Ave Verum that's not by Mozart (*QUADRUPLE SLAM*).

    Naturally all I said was, "Wow, that sounds lovely."


  2. @Julia - What, no Schubert Ave Maria to go with it all? :D

    1. Do you know what, Rosemary? You might be right! Perhaps that was in there too,and I have just repressed the psychologically ruinous memory! And let's not leave Gounod out in the cold -- he wrote another done-to-death setting of the Ave Maria text!

      If a wedding had ALL OF THOSE, it's possible I'd actually pass out. Or at least sing along in my mind except out by a semitone the whole way. I feel weddings need more bitonality.

  3. Expat Housewife20 March 2015 at 09:48

    Wonderful news. I hope that the monthly Dundee mass will always be well visited.


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