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  1030: Brompton Oratory, South Kensington, London

Brompton Oratory, South Kensington, London

Mystery Worshipper: Flower.
The church: Brompton Oratory, South Kensington, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Huge. Massive. Yet not imposing, or maybe that's because it was a sunny morning. Inside it is extremely ornate. The church is an exact imitation of the Gesu Church in Rome. The ceiling curves up a 50 foot dome while stone carvings add to the pomp of this lavish building. If you like architecture and the interiors of stately homes you'll love this place.
The church: Community? Don't think community exists in their vocabulary. No sense of community at all. Not a smidgeon. In the notices we were told that the Oratory has the usual array of parish activities (charitable work, Scouts, fund-raising groups, etc.) and that its boys' school is thriving, but you couldn't prove it by what I observed.
The neighbourhood: Well, it's situated right next door to the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum, with Harrods within sight if you stand on the opposite side of the road. Few shops around. Some residential areas nearby.
The cast: The service was led by a clergyman identified in the service sheet only as "the Priest."

What was the name of the service?
Family Mass, 10.00am service.

How full was the building?
M y husband says it was only a quarter full, yet I thought it was mostly full. People were sitting spaced out, though, so it was hard to gauge. Also people were continually coming in and leaving.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. There was no one there to welcome us. No one spoke to us. It wasn't until we had found a seat that I realised some people had books, some had sheets, and some had neither. Either they were like us and didn't have a clue as to what was going on, or they knew all the words already, as I suspect the man sitting next to us with a holy scowl on his face probably did. An announcement was made that we would need hymn books and that they could be found on shelves at the side in strategic locations.

Was your pew comfortable?
There was a selection of pews or chairs depending on where you sat. I sat in a pew. Yes, it was surprisingly comfortable. Maybe we didn't notice otherwise, as the sermon was short and we were up and down quite a bit.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Even though people were constantly yabbering away to one another, somehow there seemed to be a sense of peace. It was very laid back really. You kind of got the impression you could have turned up in a jester's outfit and no one would have noticed or cared. Some people seemed to know they were in the house of God, but others acted as if it were their house and God was not invited. There was a separate room to listen to the mass in if you had noisy children. Interesting, I thought, since this was a "family mass". There should have been a separate room for the noisy adults.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to the Oratory."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We had, if you could locate them, the Jerusalem Mass Sheet, which appeared to have been specially produced for the day. The hymn book was The Catholic Hymn Book, emblazoned with the seal of the Oratory. The Bible readings were printed on the service sheet and and were taken from the Jerusalem Bible. I'm still trying to work out what the hymn book was for, as no one sang except the choir.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Distractions abound at the Brompton Oratory! The ornateness of the building, the marble pillars and statues, the canopy above the altar (big round thing), the very tall candles, the priest's vestments that blended in so well with the decor that they could have served as camouflage, the children chattering at the back of the church, the faint rumbling of what could only be, I hope, a tube train passing below, the choir thud-thud-thudding down the stairs as they came up for communion. During communion, people for the next mass were already coming in and lining up along the aisle to our left. I think I'll stop there. Enough distractions!.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Defitnitely not happy clappy, nor stiff upper lip. I am not sure who at this mass was worshipping God anyway.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Priest surprised me, it has to be said. He spoke clearly and referred to both the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps lacking in passion a little.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God knew us before we were formed in our mother's womb. We are called to be consecrated people (the bit about the priesthood of all believers made my Baptist ears stand up). Jesus is the only truth. (Amen!) Topically, the Priest referred to Benedict XVI and also to media coverage of the papacy in recent weeks, as well as to society's deafness to Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir. First of all, it was children, and they were very cute and well disciplined. They sang like angels. Best choir I've heard in a long time. Also, the sermon was great.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sitting next to the Holy Scowler. And I wondered why there was such a mad rush to receive communion – surely there was enough for everybody. I concluded that maybe people were in a hurry so they could leave early. My conclusion proved to be correct. Finally, after the collection, one of the ushers gathered the collection bags from the other ushers and placed them at his side in the aisle. Later, I saw they had all disappeared. I prayed they hadn't been stolen – my Mystery Worshipper calling card was in there!

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The general election, missionaries, the Pope.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. We stood at the back of the church by the door. Some were leaving, some were coming, but no one acknowledged our presence. We could have stood there all day and no one would have noticed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The style is not for me. I like to feel I've come into the presence of God, not just going through motions because its what we do every Sunday.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
As a whole, no. I felt no relationship with God. However, I was impressed with the sermon and the intercessory prayers, which, although short, covered everything.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The ornateness of the building, and people coming in and out all the time.
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