What I learnt from 46 consecutive days in…

What I learnt from 46 consecutive days in church.

Wherever I went in the country, and most of my Masses were in London, Birmingham, Swansea and Manchester, it was striking how similar the congregations were at weekday Masses. There’s no getting away from it: the average age must be somewhere in the seventies. At 48, I spent most of this spring feeling like a spring chicken. But there was also invariably a young family of Asian origin, usually with young children. And at the 7am Masses in Central London there was the odd go-getter, who strode out after Mass was ended as if they had hedge funds to run. They probably did.

So, a mixed bag, as were the priests. A third of them I found to be great, with a handful quite life-changingly brilliant. Another third were sort of OK. The rest were pretty hopeless, not least because I often couldn’t actually hear what they were saying. And a handful were grumpy to the point of malevolence.

Spiritually, if I’m to really “connect” at Mass, I need a good priest to help me. And by good I mean, first and foremost, that they should look pleased to be there and pleased that we’re there. Often they speak of great “joy” while looking as bored as swimming pool attendants.
Secondly, with the liturgy – essentially the same script which they do day in, day out – the best of them find a way of making it sound fresh. As the inestimable Father Paul Addison of Our Lady of Delours in Kersal put it to me: “The clue’s in the word; communion is all about communicating.” And the same is obviously true of the sermon. One of the beauties of daily Mass is, frankly, its brevity – invariably less than half an hour. Sometimes the sermon is dispensed with altogether, but often it just takes the form of a thought or two, which I find much easier to get my head round than one of Sunday’s lengthy orations.

My favourite ever came from my first priest (I’m a convert), a Father Terry Tastard, a man with an unforgettable name in the happy habit of delivering pretty unforgettable homilies. At one weekday Mass he simply said: “How is it that we’re always so keen for others to change when we’re so reluctant to change ourselves.” That was years ago, but I think about it often. As I’ll always think back to this Lent as one of the most rewarding and quietly intense 46 days of my life.

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