During our ministry day last weekend we were sent out into Manchester to see what other churches were doing on a Saturday. The rain was horrendous, my feet were practically washed as I squelched around the streets looking for a church playfully called The Hidden Gem. The map showed us where it was and as we walked away from the main road I began to see groups of people walking together going the same direction. I knew we needed to follow them and I was right. Down the most average back street in Manchester was the sound of Latin pouring out of this building.
Standing outside the church, the rain was even harder now, and as I looked to my right I saw a camp of tents pitched up opposite the church entrance. I knew if I could hear the Latin, they could, maybe it brought comfort hearing mass from their tired tarpaulin.
I’ve never experienced a Eucharist in a Catholic Church before, so I was excited to see what Mass was like and to see the Church inside. I popped my head from around the screen and my mouth opened in surprise. Not only was the church beautiful it was full!
My friends and I snuck into a back pew just as the priest put the Monstrance on the altar. It was the most golden object I’d ever seen. The Priest then disappeared and as l am an Anglican I had no clue what was going on, but the kneeling pads looked inviting so I knelt and prayed in the silence.
I noticed that the absolute silence in the church felt thick in the air. If there was a squeak from a pew the noise was absorbed. My skin was tingling all over, wave after wave, God was here with us. We were three foreign women in a foreign church yet he was here with us.
Out of the stillness I heard the faint cry of a newborn baby. It awoke me from my prayers with a start. The shrill wailing became louder and louder. Here in this moment all I could think of was Jesus as baby, bursting into the world, his very presence so human yet changing the whole dynamic of our earthly life. My thoughts switched to the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, here I was in this surreal experience, heart pounding, skin tingling, continually amazed by his glory.
The baby continued to cry but was soon settled just as Mass began. Afterwards we saw the little one, not one peep was made through the whole service. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ was upon us all.
I received a blessing from the Priest as I knew I couldn’t take communion from him, the whole experience was fascinating and afterwards I realised that it was significant too.
I remember my first dream that led me to follow Jesus, it was Mary that led me into a temple and pointed me to a huge statue of her son’s feet. I bought a necklace to remind me of Mary’s message, it had a charm showing the depiction of Mary appearing to Bernadette at Lourdes. When I visited The Hidden Gem, according to their pew sheet, the feast this week is Our Lady of Lourdes.
I’m taking that as a sign that I am certainly following what God has planned for me. It has been three years since that happened (new year 2013) and it all made sense after walking into the church that has filled my heart everyday since. I thank God everyday for calling me to find the love of Jesus there. The Church of England is certainly my home but I will hold a soft spot for the wonders of Mary in The Catholic Church.