IN COMMON with many other Catholics I did not exactly welcome the liturgical changes set in motion by Vatican II. The first time I took part in an English speaking Mass I did not "feet" that the miracle of Transubstantiation had taken place when the priest uttered the words of Consecration. Blind faith replaced the emotional cer titude I had enjoyed before.
As the years passed I gradually became convinced of the superiority of the New Rite, but this conviction was purely intellectual: my heart wasn't in it.
Then, as a result of my employer moving out of London nearly five years ago, my wife and I found ourselves in the "overspill" town of Wellingborough.
Here we found a large parish with two churches, a chapel (and the local borstal) being served by a hard-working team of three priests, (Since our arrival two more Mass centres have been established in outlying districts). For some time past I had been aware of a study group within the parish but it wasn't until last year that I joined it and discovered that the new series of fortnightly talks starting in September were to be on the Eucharist.
The course was given by one of our priests, Fr Thomas Cooper, and from the outset I was fascinated by his account of the development of the Mass from Apostolic times.
The Creed is taken for granted in our Sunday Mass, but from Fr Cooper I learned of its vital importance to persecuted early Christians. A stranger wishing to participate in a celebration of the Eucharist would he required to recite the Creed as proof that he was not a spy.
Bidding Prayers, which I had vaguely imagined to be a Vatican II innovation were, I discovered, an integral part of the early Christians' Eucharist.
As the talks proceeded the Tridentine Mass fell into perspective and I realised that by holding on to it for so long we had achieved the kind of ritualised observance that had marked the religion of the pharisees.
A couple of weeks before Easter the end of our course was marked by a Passover meal held in the home of a study group member and presided over by Fr Cooper. (This was a Seder celebration. so well described by your correspondent, Sonia Marks, in your April I issue. As we received our portions of unleavened bread from Fr Cooper he told us that at this point Jesus said "This is My Body." And at the end or the meal, with the front door of the house open for the spirit of Eli
jah to enter, Fr Cooper filled a goblet with wine, explaining that at this juncture Jesus said "This is My Blood."
In her article, Sonia Marks stated: "Modern scholarship tends to discount the view that the Last Supper was a form of Passover meal." I am not qualified to comment on this, but at least we know that Our Saviour chose the homely setting of a family meal as the mise en scene of the Eucharist.
He did not prescribe a ceremony to he enacted by the Apostles in a synagogue. I doubt if he intended the Eucharistic table (altar) to become separated from the congregalion by vast sanctuaries and choirs.
Yes, I have loved — and still love — the splendour of Gothic cathedrals and I cherish them as monuments to the Christian Faith. But one does not sit down to a family meal in a monument.
The most important lesson I gleaned from our study group is that Christians cannot exist in a vacuum. As long as we inhabit the time dimension we are subject to the law of change. Our Lord is constantly prompting us to change our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh — the temptation to fossilise our methods of worshipping him must always be resisted.
A final thought from Fr Cooper. Was not the old rite of Benediction, with its veiled monstrance and sevenbranched candlesticks, really a form of Temple worship?