I had walked past Holy Apostles a thousand times, but I had never been inside. I had, of course, read the wonderful story of the wartime priest (who remained Parish Priest until 1982), Canon Hadfield, who after the church had suffered a direct hit in April 1941, cycled through the bombing to take the Blessed Sacrament up to Westminster Cathedral for safekeeping (years before the truly excellent Otto Preminger film The Cardinal (a must see), in which the Archbishop of Vienna consumes the hosts from the tabernacle as hordes of Nazi youths smash their way into his residence). I knew that the parish was very active : their minibuses collecting the elderly and housebound are a feature of Sunday life in Pimlico, and their free playgroup for toddlers and their busy programme of social and fundraising activities are well known.
I knew also of Fr Pat Browne, who, poor soul, always seems to have his name followed by "He has a lovely voice, you know". This, I suppose, because he does indeed have a lovely voice and because he sang the Gospel at a Papal Mass during Blessed John Paul II's visit to England in 1982.
Beyond that, I knew nothing.
The church was pretty much full. Admittedly, some of the school were present, but neverthelesss, the attendance at a 10am mass on a damp Tuesday in November, even if on a Holy Day of Obligation, was impressive.
I put to the test, for the first time, what I had read about on many occasions. The theory is that, as a Catholic, I can be content to attend any Catholic parish. I may or may not get the music I like, the eucharistic prayer I like, the serving I like, but what I will get is the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in communion with the whole Catholic Church, and that matters far, far more.
The test was passed. In CofE days, going away from home at the weekend was always a real challenge. One had to do decent research, and to check that one's information was up to date, for fear of wandering unwittingly into something quite different from what one wanted and needed on a Sunday morning. Attending Mass at the Holy Apostles this morning proved the point to me beautifully : there is no more need to worry.
And do you know what? I loved it, which I admit rather surprised me.
The three hymns were ably sung by the congregation, even with there being no organist (and, to my shame, I must admit that I was pleased that there was no folk group either: sorry...). All that was needed was the famous "lovely voice" of Fr Pat to lead us.
What, to my utter astonishment, touched me the most, was the Q&A session with the schoolchildren that took the place of a formal homily. Fr Pat asked them if they could name some saints. The answers came back: Peter, Paul, Michael, Gabriel, Bernadette (how wonderful!), Francis of Assisi and so on. Fr Pat then asked what the children knew about each saint, and decent answers were given. Fr Pat then asked if the children knew what a saint was. Someone who was good. Someone who did not boast about being good. Someone who was close to God now. All good stuff. I can think of many a congregation where the adults would have been stumped by that.
Moving onto trickier territory, Fr Pat explained about canonised saints (ie those we know about) and all the others. He touched on personal territory, talking of departed family members, who might already be with God. Obviously, this touched one or two children, who talked of departed grandparents, and it also touched Fr Pat, whose younger sister, in her 40s, has very recently departed this life.
Where poor Fr Pat was tripped up was when he asked about the Blessed. The children were asked which two of the Blessed he might have met during their time on earth. One bright spark politely put his hand up and asked, "Was it St Patrick, Father?"
The Catholic Faith, living and breathing in Pimlico. How truly wonderful. The fact that my personal tastes lead me to prefer another form of presentation of the Mass does not in any way take away from or lessen what goes on at Holy Apostles : indeed the opposite is true. Very clearly, God is present there, and the work of Fr Pat and his excellent team is the work of the Gospel and of the Church.
I couldn't resist posting the following, a picture of the shrine of Pope Saint Pius X at Holy Apostles. There are other pictures of the interior of the church on the parish website.
After mass, to my favourite restaurant, the Hunan on Pimlico Road. Delicious food as always, I cannot recommend it highly enough. In the second of these two photos, you can see the gleaming spire of St Barnabas, Pimlico, a most beautiful building, and indeed a most historic church for the Anglo-Catholic movement. Of interest to Ordinariate members is the fact that it is a very rare example of the Anglican Diocese of London and the Catholic Church sharing "worship space". The Melkites use the building for their liturgy every Sunday morning at 11.30.
After all that, in case anyone worries that I have forgotten my Anglican Patrimony, here is a link to For All the Saints. Before listening to this, I ask you to give thanks for the universality of the Catholic Church, and to offer a prayer for Fr Pat, for the parish of the Holy Apostles Pimlico, and for the repose of the soul of Fr Pat's sister Miriam. In return, I ask the intercession of Our Lady and of All Saints for all those who read this blog.