Taking account of the speed in which St James's filled up on Thursday evening, I arrived almost half an hour before the liturgy began, to find that the front half of church was pretty much already full, with the back half filling up gradually. More impressive than that was the total silence, even with all those people present, a silence that was fully maintained.
Yesterday was mostly sunny and light, as this picture taken on my way to St James's shows. However, inside the church, there were no lights on at all, and this effect, coupled with several well-timed passing clouds lessening what sunlight was coming in, made for the perfect sombre setting. On account of the lighting, there are no photos of the inside to share today.
The liturgy began in utter silence at 3pm, with all four of the parish clergy following the servers in and prostrating themselves before the altar, as around 500 people knelt down in the body of the church. It was very powerful.
Before the Passion, we all sat in silence as the choir sang this motet by Anerio. The way the music appears to die, but then pushes on after the first "usque at mortem" is a homily in itself.
Following the beautiful singing of the Passion by three choir members (including the Byrd setting for the choral parts, which was new to me), Fr Colven gave a homily that addressed two main points. First, in John's Gospel, where no textual detail is merely padding, that Pilate's order that INRI be written in Greek, Hebrew and Latin was a sign that what happened on Good Friday was part of something that was for everyone and would change existence for everyone, there was a universality to it. Second, that what changed is that, as the Catechism says, death is not to be feared, and this is for all who put their trust in Christ.
The Solemn Prayers had a particular resonance and logic to new Catholics, the prayers for separated brethren in particular.
Perhaps the most striking part of the liturgy was the Procession of the Cross (with Fr Irwin singing the Ecce Lignum Crucis rather well) and the Veneration. The Veneration must have taken around half an hour, purely on account of the number of people present.
During the Veneration, the choir sang several motets and hymns. The question raised on the famous New Liturgical Movement website a couple of weeks ago was answered at Spanish Place with the beautiful setting by Victoria.
Among the hymns, the popular but moving When I Survey was included. This verse in particular never fails to pull heartstrings.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
As we returned to our seats following Veneration, we were each handed a card with a prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman :
....shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy Presence in my soul; let them look up, and see no longer me - but only Jesus.
This text tied in perfectly with the Holy Father's Chrism Mass homily, which has been so widely covered elsewhere, but which talked about sacrifice of self and dedication.
We wait for tonight's vigil and the resurrection with the rest of the Church.