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July 24, 2004

Services unlimited ...

I have spent a large part of the morning rehearsing for the services for Musica Deo Sacra at the Abbey. This is a week of glorious music, sung by a choir drawn from all over England and even the continent, and sung (not performed!) within the worship. It is an annual event, and it draws visitors who worship daily in our Abbey church to the strains of Bach, Hayden, Mozart, Palestrina, Vivaldi, Elgar, Howells, and others. The key is that the music is heard as it was intended to be heard - as worship, within the worship.

The choristers are professionals, semi-professionals, amateurs, and they come together to render this act of praise every year. It culminates on Sunday the 1st August with a High Mass at which the preacher will be the Archbishop of Wales, and the Choir is accompanied by an orchestra, the West of England Players, yet another group who come together to take part in this glorious act of worship. While the musicians and choristers rehearse and perfect their part of the worship, the team of ministers (and this year it includes the Bishop of Gloucester, himself) must rehearse their part of the worship as well.

A High Mass doesn't just happen; it is a carefully choreographed event, and all have to know their parts in it to perfection. One small movement out of place can detract from everyone's worship, the focus of which is God and His glorious grace. Even the movements required for a Solemn Evensong and for Benediction must be rehearsed to make sure that the movements are smooth and do not distract anyone from their worship. Every item needed must be in its proper place, be collected, used, and returned with as much grace as a ballet performance, otherwise it becomes a distraction. So we rehearsed. From 1000 this morning until 1315. And we will have a further rehearsal on Monday evening for Tuesday's Mass, and on Tuesday for Wednesday, and on Saturday for Sunday! Just to make sure that everyone has his movements, actions, positions memorised so that they, too, can focus on worship while moving through the service - without a service book! Only the President of the Mass has that! And the Sub Deacon carries it.

As part of today's rehearsal the Monk was also required to teach a new batch of Sub Deacons the routine for a normal Solemn Eucharist. This took place while the main rehearsal didn't require his attention or presence. It is a great privilege to be a part of this and it is an even greater privilege to be able to open up this ministry to others.

Our Lord called men and women from all walks of life to be disciples and ministers and He still does. Every Christian is called to be a Minister in faith to his or her neighbours, some are called to the pulpit or the altar, some to minister as choristers, and others to minister as part of the Team of Ministers at the Altar. I have served in that capacity now for over twenty years as a Reader/Deacon and before that as a Server and a chorister. It has been fun, it has certainly had its moments - such as being told off at the last minute to be a visiting Bishop's Chaplain with the fierce instruction "and don't let him do ANYTHING!" from the Master of Ceremonies.

Another such occassion was at the enthronement of a new Bishop when he knocked at the great West Door with his staff and nothing happened for a very long time. As he knocked again, we could hear a commotion inside and the doors were flung back to reveal several flustered Church Wardens and a line of fellow Bishops and Archbishops trying to hide their amusement, while the MC's face put one strongly in mind of the Archangel Michael in battle mode! We later discovered that the Church Warden had carefully locked the doors to ensure that they remianed closed until the Bishop's entrance - and then had become so enmeshed in other matters that he forgot to ensure the key was returned to the lock. Then, he and his fellow warden compounded this by immersing themselves in a conversation while all the dignitaries around them got into position - and failed to hear the knock! The MC had had to resort to covering the nearest microphone - the Archbishop's - with his hand and snarled at the Wardens "Open the b***y door!", which was picked up by at least three other microphones which broadcast it to the 5,000 people in the Cathedral while the churchwardens desperately tried to remember what they had done with the key!

I'm sure that the Lord was in stitches by the time we got inside with our new Bishop, whose own contribution to our amusement had been to announce as he struck the door for the second time - "I think they may have changed their minds - thank God!" We spent the rest of the Procession and solemnities trying hard not to burst out laughing everytime we had to turn and face him - and he grinned impishly at us in return.

No, these services don't just happen. I have now to go and memorise about three pages of instructions for the three services for which I will be one of the ministers. The worst one will be Tuesday. I am Chaplain to the Lord Bishop of Gloucester for the day and he is President of the High Mass. My Rubric for dealing with this is just one line -

"Chaplain to deal with Mitre and Crozier as required."

Oh joy, oh rupture. Anyone know where I can get an extra pair of hands attached and how I can become a full blown telepath by Tuesday?

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 24, 2004 04:51 PM