In which Ruth ponders Black Prayers

I’ve been rummaging through old church magazines again and found this interesting article about music in Lent, from March 1925.

There was an ancient custom in some churches that was very widely observed in England up to the middle of last century of giving up all music during the week-days of Lent, and having ‘black prayers’, so called because the white singing robes were laid aside and the choir appeared in black cassocks, as they still do on Good Fridays, monotoning chants, psalms, and responses, while hymns, except on Sundays were unheard. Since music is among the joys of life and has its place with feasting and all fair things, this custom seems more impressive that the singing of hymns about fasting, which on the lips of the majority are wholly insincere. It seems to encourage rather a dangerous habit of mind to sing of the Church’s call to fasting, while in practice we substitute some trifling self-denial of your own choosing, because in these days we have come to the conclusion that after all man does not live by bread alone!

…The modern English hymns for Lent are only two, but they are very good ones. ‘Forty days and forty nights’ was written by Rev George Smyttan and slightly altered by Rev F Pott; and ‘Lord, in this Thy mercy’s day’ is by Rev Isaac Williams, one of the saintly leaders of the Oxford movement.

Imagine that! Only two hymns for Lent. Did they have them every week, do you think? One assumes that they did sing other non-Lenten hymns at this time. I love hymns for Lent and Passiontide. There is something about the pace and the sorrow which makes them terribly powerful. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that of all my favourite hymns most are for Lent or Communion. Yet I seem such a happy soul!

I like the idea of ‘black prayers’, mind you. Not that we have a daily mass with choir, you understand. But there is something about changing the pace, aurally and visibly, which appeals to the stage-manager in me. Our choir don’t wear cassocks and cottas so that won’t work… the Servers without cottas, perhaps? Hmmm. Then that would show all the safety pins and things which hold these ancient garments together, all usually hidden under the crisp white folds of the cotta. Perhaps not then.

And your favourite Lent hymn? Do share.

sad songs


Exhortation to be regular in your observance of the Lord’s day

As the Holy Scrubbers and Dusters did their thing in church yesterday keeping it all looking spick and span, I decided to give my bookshelves a good clear out. These are the Sacristy bookshelves known the world over which contain old Scottish Prayer Books, ASBs (for those visiting clergy who will use no other), tatty Grey and Blue books, little Green short prayer book (liturgy-lite), old photocopies of Compline, Confirmations and Candlemas, videos of dodgy-looking bible stories for children, candle stubs, incense crumbs, wobbly snuffers, many lighters none of which work, and a pile of plastic cups which the Servers ignore leaving me to cough my guts up mid-liturgy while looking pointedly at the Sacristy door wherein this all lies.

So I was having a good old throw-out when I came across another issue of The Scottish Churchman dated November, 1938.  (The Scottish Churchman being the monthly magazine for Churchpeople at Home and Overseas for Christ Church, Falkirk with St Mary’s Grangemouth and St Andrew’s, Dunmore.)  What joys lie therein.  Holy Communion on Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, Tuesday and Friday. Matins daily, as is Evensnog. Then there is a host of Study Circles, Lads’ Fellowship, Bible Class, and the Guides and Brownies etc. Services are held in Christ Church Falkirk, St Mary’s Grangemouth, the Masonic Hall Larbert, St Margaret’s Polmont and St Andrew’s Dunmore, only two of which remain today.

The advertisements are the usual you might expect in a church magazine: Funeral Undertakers, Mission to Seamen, Fireplaces (?), Ovaltine, Mr McLuckie the organist looking for pupils of the pianoforte, and Harry Lacey the Boot and Shoe Repairer.

The Rector’s letter talks of Remembrance Sunday and the hope that we shall never see war again in this land. He also talks of many members of St Mary’s Grangemouth joining the Navy, while most of Christ Church seem to prefer the Air Force. The eighth young man has just left Falkirk for the Air Force. (I see that one of them is the father of a current member whose ashes I recently interred in our Garden of Remembrance so he must have returned safely.)

The Rector also states: “We should rejoice in the honour done to our Church and to our Branch of the Mothers’ Union, through my Mother being elected County President for Stirlingshire of the Scottish Mothers’ Union.” Rejoice indeed.

I was more impressed by the fact that Christ Church held a Sale in aid of St Mary’s Grangemouth and raised £100. That’s not a bad total for 1938.

And finally, the letter from the Rev Patrick Broun to the People of St Mary’s Grangemouth:

My last letter was written on the eve of the crisis. Now, thanks to what may be described as a miracle, the war-clouds have been dispersed, and we can breathe freely again. Every Sunday I incorporate the prayer “for the preservation of peace” into our Services, and I hope that each member of our congregation is praying continually for this object.

My ministry at St Mary’s is one of constant joy to me, but I am far from satisfied with the present state of affairs. I know our congregation is not a large one, but I think we could do better so far as Church attendance is concerned. On Sunday mornings I am almost invariably depressed when I come into Church and see the sprinkling of people who are there. Many of those who read this Magazine are not what one could call regular attenders. It is quite useless for me to complain to the people who are in Church, so I must do it in this way. I do not like complaining any more that you like reading my complaints, but I shall continue to do so until matters improve.

I consider it my duty as your priest to exhort you to be regular in your observance of the Lord’s day, and to receive frequently the Sacrament which Christ has ordained for our strengthening in the Christian life.

Amen to that Brother Broun!

The Scottish Churchman – May 1937

The May edition of the Scottish Churchman is full of news about the Coronation of King George VI with Queen Elizabeth.  There is a long article about the meaning behind the symbols used in the coronation, and ‘the Scottish Bishops have sanctioned the use in whole or in part of the services commended by the English Archbishops for Sunday, May 2, and Coronation Day. But they hope that in all our churches Holy Communion will be celebrated on the morning of May 12, as a solemn act of intercession for the King and the Queen Consort.’

There is also a wee snippet telling us that ‘At the Coronation, choristers from each of the Anglican Provinces – Canterbury, York, Scotland, Ireland, Wales – are to assist in the music. Those from Scotland are two boys from St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, Robert Kidd and Christopher Anderson. They will be under the care of the Rev W P Shannon, second chaplain at the Cathedral, who is to sing in the special choir.’  I’m sure I’ve met Bob Kidd, one of those children, and I think he was the organist at St John’s Princes Street.

And did you know…?  ‘Scottish Churchpeople have a special interest in Her Majesty the Queen, for she was prepared for confirmation by one of our clergy, and was confirmed in the church of St John’s Forfar.’

And finally… ‘The British Broadcasting Corporation have sent us a list of their religious services during May, pamphlets on Broadcast Talks and Music Programmes for the ensuing months, and the Service in Preparation for the Coronation, to be broadcast on May 9, at 8pm. The last can be had for 3d, or, post free, 4d, from the BBC Publications’ Department. It is very nicely got up.’

Oh that there was enough religion on the BBC today to merit its own pamphlet!  And I wonder what merited it being called ‘nicely got up’? Love it!

Scottish Church News from 1937

I’ve found another rather delicious wee snippet from The Scottish Churchman entitled ‘Excerpts from Episcopal Addresses at recent Diocesan Councils and Synods’.

ST ANDREWS – “A good deal may be done to deepen the religious life of our people by the steady and patient teaching of the faith in simple and direct language, taking the Prayer Book as our guide, and showing how Church doctrine is Bible truth.”

BRECHIN – “Apart from the faithful remnant who still sought after God, it is difficult to discern any religious outlook at all in vast masses of our fellow countrymen… The consequence was only too clear – there is settling down upon us a malaise compounded of fear, selfishness, and cynicism, which is more and more inclined to despair.”

ABERDEEN – “For years and years the diocese has given me an almost crushing feeling of anxiety, owing to the very large number of small and very poor charges which it contained, more small and poor charges than any other diocese in the Scottish Episcopal Church.”

MORAY – “The Bishop of Moray in his charge gave a valuable account of the Coronation Service, prefaced by the following words: – “It is the solemn hallowing of the Sovereign for his great office, which, we cannot doubt, will give him in answer to prayer, the peace of God to fulfil his office to the glory of God and the good of the people over whom the Sovereign is to rule.”

Scottish Church News 1937

Some more snippets from The Scottish Churchman of 1937.

St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen

In order to receive help towards the expenses of the Cathedral, the Provost sat there for a whole day recently. Gifts of the faithful amounted to £308.

(I could do that. Beats a sponsored walk anyway.)

St Thomas, Aboyne

In memory of his mother, Lord Glentaner has given an endowment of £8600 New Zealand Government stock to St Thomas’s. He is also installing electric light in the church.

St John’s, Greenock

An anonymous offer of £1000 to provide a side-chapel and clergy vestry has been made to St John’s, and has been accepted with gratitude by the Vestry.

Edinburgh Diocesan Lectures

The first lecture of the session was delivered in the Chapter House, St Mary’s Cathedral, by the Lord Bishop of Glasgow. His subject was “Life after Death and our contact with it.” There was a large audience, and the Bishop’s impressive lecture was listened to with close attention.

All Saints’, Edinburgh: Proposed Memorial Chapel

An offer has been made by Miss Emilia Mylne of a chapel in memory of her father and mother, to be made in the south transept. Plans are being prepared by Sir M Ochterlony, Bart. The Vestry has accepted this generous offer. It will add much to the beauty and usefullness of the church.

St Columba’s, Edinburgh

A memorial erected by members of the congregation in memory of a former rector, the Rev H H Flower, was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of the diocese. It takes the form of an oak reredos.

(Sounds lovely. I wonder who replaced it with that ghastly painting…)

St Gabriel’s, Govan

As a result of a parochial visitation by members of the congregation, and of conferences, there have been improvements in the church life – many more communions, more dignified worship, a stronger choir, more devoted people, and a richer fellowship, expressed in the rise of such organisations as the Men’s Club, Young People’s Guild, Boy’s Club, and Dramatic Club. A staff of ladies do loyal service in systematic visiting of the sick.

(Sounds like the men get all the fun!)

St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow

The Children’s Corner has been enriched by the addition of a miniature Sanctuary, with Altar, furnishings and frontals. These will be used for the purposes of instruction. The Sanctuary was made by Mr E Beckett, and the Altar furnishings by Miss A Littler, who also made a set of miniature vestments, placed beneath glass in a frame, each labelled with its proper designation.

(I want one of those!)

Christ Church, Falkirk

A member of the congregation has given a crucifix carved at Oberammergau, to hang above the pulpit, and a set of fourteen stations of the Cross – sepia photographs of wood carvings, framed in mahogany, will be fitted into the panelling that surrounds the church.

(And where the heck are they now, I’d like to know?)

The Call to Religion

The Dean of Edinburgh, Dr Perry, put the matter in a nutshell when he said in the Edinburgh Synod that “the duty of the laity was to sit up and think, kneel down and pray, and then to be evangelists.”

St Columba’s, Clydebank

At the sung Eucharist at 9.30am the number of communicants has steadily increased of late. On Palm Sunday, when there was a procession and distribution of palms, there were 100 communicants. The rector conducted a series of lantern services in church during Lent on Sunday evenings. Keen interest was shown in these, the attendance ranging from 200 to 250.

(Hmm, a lantern service… I wonder if he did shadow puppets…)

A Funeral at Rouen

While clearing out some cupboards here in Christ Church we came across bound copies of The Scottish Churchman, which seems to be the 1937 version of Inspires. What an interesting periodical it is too. Letters from Bishops; Scottish Church News; Letter from a Library; Our Book Shelf; Our Serial Story; Bible Studies; Chanda Notes; Obscure Scottish Poets; Aspects of Scottish Church Work; the Children’s Page; and Churchwomen’s Missionary Association are all there. I may share some of the articles with you.

This one, in particular, caught my eye…

A Funeral At Rouen

The whole of the outside of the west door at St Ouen was hung with heavy jet-black curtains, edged with broad white braid, and behind the High Altar three great black panels had been set up, which filled nearly the whole of the spaces between the pillars. The High Altar was also hung with black, and lit with innumerable candles, both electric and wax. An immense black catafalque was erected at the foot of the chancel steps, a great many candles burning round it. At the south-west corner of the church, just inside the door, a “Chapelle Ardente” had been constructed, all very black and sombre looking, in this the coffin had lain all night. At the appointed time a procession came down the south aisle from the sacristy, headed by young men and boys carrying a cross and candles, followed by choir-boys and men, and priests vested all in black, all chanting psalms in Latin, and proceeded to the “Chapelle Ardente”. The procession then preceded the coffin up in the middle aisle, with a great many mourners following. The coffin, which was of oak – the only bright spot! – was deposited in the catafalque. The priests said a Low Mass at the High Altar, the choir continuing to chant all the time. During the offertory a priest and a verger both came down the church and took a collection. When the Mass was over the procession came down into the chancel and the officiating priest walked twice round the catafalque, first sprinkling it with holy water, then incensing it. This ceremony concluded, the choir and the clergy preceded the coffin down the aisle to the west end of the church; there it was deposited on trestles just outside the “Chapelle Ardente” (which by this time had been almost dismantled!). One of the priests now turned round and addressed the mourners for a short time, after which he again sprinkled the coffin with holy water. The choir and priests then returned to the sacristy, except one little acolyte with the holy water vessel and sprinkler, then nearly all the friends and relations of the deceased went up and sprinkled the coffin with holy water. At last it was taken up and put into the hearse, and the mourners entering the waiting carriages. Fortunately the hearse and carriages were motors, for a funeral procession in France with horses is a very doleful sight. The black horses, with flowing tails and manes are draped with enormous black cloths which nearly touch the ground, while on their heads tall black plumes wave, the hearse also had several waving plumes, and the coachmen wear very deep mourning.


Now that’s what I call a funeral. Love the idea of everyone coming to sprinkle holy water on the coffin.  Although I have noticed of late that the family and friends will often come forward at a burial to put a shovel-ful of earth in.