Catholic Identity at St Michael’s

Worship at St Michael’s in the post-War era was characterised by a strongly Catholic tradition. Mass was offered daily, twice on Holy Days, and choral singing was a particular strength, with the large men’s and women’s choirs, affiliated with the Royal School of Church Music, singing Evensong and High Masses. In addition to the more secular community groups offered by the church, such as the Scouts, there were also Catholic lay groups, including the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, which had a Ward at St Michael’s until 1946.

In 1947, the Communicants Guild was re-started. Members committed themselves to three rules: 1) to attend Mass each Sunday, 2) to receive communion regularly, and 3) to attend meetings before major Holy Days, although it was hoped that they would supplement this with their own rules. Today, the congregation at St Michael’s is still encouraged to adopt a Rule of Life, supported and encouraged by a lay-lead catechists group.

One recurring theme in the Magazines in the post-War period is a strong assertion of Catholic identity. In the summer of 1946, the Parish Magazine excitedly reported that with the arrival of the Very Reverend Archimandrite Nicholas in the parish, there was now a Russian Orthodox presence.1 When he was present at a Sung Mass at St. Michael’s the following year, the Parish Magazine remarked on this “very practical example of the link between the two branches of the Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox and ourselves.”2 A year later, when All Saints’ parish had been incorporated into St Michael’s, and the vacant church building was rented out to the Greek Orthodox Church, the Parish Magazine observed “it is interesting to note that within the boundaries of St.Michael’s Parish all three branches of the Catholic Church will now be fully represented – the Roman Catholic in Arlington Road; the Orthodox Catholic in Pratt Street, and the English Catholic (the established Catholic Church of the country), at St Michael’s.”3 Throughout the 40s and 50s, the Parish Magazine gleefully reports whenever there is “Another Convert From Rome” – there were at least five in those 20 years.4

In 1949 the church’s Catholic tendencies attracted some unwelcome attention. The Parish Magazine of April that year reported:

St Michael’s Church was the scene of an unhappy disturbance recently, when a body of people calling themselves the National League of Protestants decided to pay us a visit. Fifteen members of this extraordinary society – most of whom are non-conformists – placed themselves in various parts of the church and proceeded to shout protests one by one during the celebration of the 11:15 Sung Mass. Everyone at St Michael’s is to be congratulated on the dignified way in which they faced what might have developed into an unseemly brawl. Priest and choir carried on as if nothing untoward was happening, while the congregation worshipped as best they could. Meanwhile, the Church Warden – Mr W. Clark – and Sidesmen escorted each Protestant outside the Church as he got to his feet.5

The concern with Catholic identity was maintained in the following years. A Parish Magazine article of 1956 on the importance of the altar claimed that “in churches where the altar is not venerated, you will find that such churches are merely places of preaching and talking or singing, and not of real worship.”6 However, ever keen to distinguish themselves from the Roman Catholic Church, in a follow-up piece on the use of incense, it was explained that incense was used during the Mass because “the use of incense is Catholic. There is nothing ‘Popish’ about it.” “It is used today throughout the Eastern Church, which prides itself on loyalty to primitive tradition and rejects the claims of the Pope as firmly and insistently as we do.”7

HDJ

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  1. Probably a reference to Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes, an Englishman who had tutored Tsarevich Alexei.
  2. Parish Magazine, August 1947
  3. Parish Magazine, May 1948. Although twenty years later they had rather soured to the Greek Orthodox presence, complaining bitterly about “the persistent refusal of the Diocese to evict the Greeks from their unlawful possession of All Saints’ Church.” Today, All Saints is a Greek Orthodox cathedral.
  4. See e.g. Parish Magazine, April 1951; March 1958; December 1959
  5. Parish Magazine, April 1949
  6. Parish Magazine, July 1956
  7. Parish Magazine, September 1956. By the 1960s, however, they had adopted a more eccumenical tone, and hopefully printed an article on the first meeting of the Anglican-Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission at Gazzada in 1967.