This is one of those important posts that I really want to get right. The Right Reverend Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham came to the Merton LMS conference yesterday to celebrate Pontifical Vespers. The above is a photo taken by Br Lawrence Lew OP. There are more at the New Liturgical Movement Vespers was glorious and I really enjoyed being an assistant Deacon. As I explained to the priests at the conference this week, once you have learnt the ceremonies, there is no more to learn at the practical level. You do not need to "make up" the liturgy, all you need to do is observe the rubrics and try to do things properly. Practice makes perfect.
After Vespers, Bishop McMahon came to the reception dressed with his purple ferraiuolo. Several priests also pulled out ferraiuoli from somewhere or another and I am now resolved to get one of these things.There followed the banquet for the last evening of the conference and here lies my concern to get things right.
After dinner, Bishop McMahon was invited to speak. His address was warm, humorous, inspiring and - most significantly - a genuine, positive, generous affirmation of all that the conference was trying to achieve. Normally, I would hesitate to publish anything concerning an unscripted speech on a private occasion. Two things prompt me to do so. First, Bishop McMahon, in an aside, obviously intended to amuse those present, acknowledged the presence of a reporter from the Tablet. The reporter was a good chap and I am sure we will see a balanced report - but the point is that His Lordship's remark in the context of an after dinner speech was obviously intended as a laugh with those who were present, most of whom, shall we say, do not entirely agree with all that the Tablet publishes.
My second reason for venturing to comment on Bishop McMahon's speech is that when leaving the bar after spending a brief but not stinting time socially with the clergy after dinner, he encouraged me personally to "keep blogging" and jokingly said that he wanted his photo on my blog. (Happy to oblige, My Lord!)
Bishop McMahon unequivocally affirmed his support for Summorum Pontificum, for the liturgical "project" of Pope Benedict and for a conference at which priests were learning to celebrate the usus antiquior of the Roman Rite.
The comment that everybody remembered was when His Lordship referred to Pope Benedict's desire that the two forms of the Roman rite should enrich each other. He said that the older form should enrich the celebration of the newer form and that the newer form should enrich the older form. In a light-hearted aside, he then said that it was hard to see how the newer form could enrich the older form. There was much banging of tables, laughs and applause at this remark. This morning, Dr Laurence Hemming dutifully reminded us that many people think that some more prefaces might be an enrichment of the older form (though he also made clear his opposition in principle to the idea of the "reform" of the liturgy which is a gift from God.)
What I think Bishop McMahon's heartwarming speech did most of all was to convey to those gathered that he was not simply there as a token prelate but that he really enjoyed taking part actively, that he supported our work, and that he was prepared to crack some jokes that he knew we would enjoy, being entirely on our wavelength and, as they say, reading from the same page.
His address was met with a joyful and enthusiastic standing ovation by the priests present and some fellows started us off singing the Ad multos annos to His Lordship, followed by the first verses of "Faith of our Fathers" and "God bless our Pope."
Bishop McMahon has certainly won the hearts of the priests who came to Merton. All of a sudden, there is someone that many priests loyal to Pope Benedict will be watching closely and including in their mementos at the Mass.
Ecce Sacerdos Magnus!