The Sunday after London Pride last year, our Soho Mass was briefly disturbed by an uninvited visitor, making an entirely unauthorized video recording of the proceedings. His recording of the bidding prayers has now surfaced on some conservative Catholic blogs.
In a Catholic Herald report, some of the bloggers and others opposed to the Masses have used these as supposed evidence that they exist primarily to challenge Church teaching. Fr Ray Blake, for instance, claims that
"What I find scandalous is that Mass is offered for a group of people who, as this video shows, obviously dissent from the teaching of the Church and gather primarily to challenge that teaching, rather than to worship."
This conclusion is patently ridiculous, and not supported by the texts of the bidding prayers themselves. These in particular, appear to be what they most object to:
.....that the various communities we represent, ethnicity, language, gender and sexual orientations, find means to celebrate this diversity, and strive for greater social justice for all people.
Are the opponents seriously suggesting that we should not be praying for social justice? Another prayer they objected to, was for
...lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender organisations here and throughout the world, and especially those which gather to support people of faith, that they may reflect the rainbow covenant of justice and integrity which God establishes amongst us.
What is forbidden by Church teaching, is same-sex genital activity. There is nothing in the prayers that even remotely encourages this.
Watch, and decide for yourselves:
What these prayers do promote, is an obvious corollary to the other part of Catechism teaching - the importance of respect, compassion and sensitivity, which must lead to the acceptance of full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church. So these bidding prayers are promoting, not contradicting, Church teaching - one of the parts that the objectors conveniently ignore. (The other part they ignore, is that none of us has the right to pass judgement on the state of another's soul).
Fr Blake is also totally wrong that the "purpose" of the Mass is not worship. Five years ago, when I and a group of others were discussing with diocesan representatives the parameters for our move into a Catholic parish church, it was clearly understood, and agreed by us, that the Masses were to be pastoral in nature, and not campaigning. As part of the organising team ever since, I can confirm that we have stood by that agreement scrupulously. The sole purpose of the Mass is to provide an opportunity for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends, to meet together for a corporate act of worship, in a setting where they know they will receive a particular welcome - together with other Catholics, and in a parish setting. It is true that I and some of the other organisers do disagree, strongly and publicly, with Vatican doctrine on sexual ethics, but that is kept strictly separate from the conduct of the Masses. (In the same way, it is likely that in any student chaplaincy, there will be a strong proportion of young people who disagree strongly with church teaching on sex before marriage, or on masturbation, but that does not imply that Masses for students are organised to promote dissent. A similar argument applies to family Masses and contraception.)
In his response to the objections, the CH quotes our chairman, Joe Stanley, who said that he did not think Fr Finigan's view of the Soho Masses was representative.
"Our experience of ordinary Catholics in the pew is very different from the comments in the blogosphere. The Masses keep getting represented as "gay Masses"," he said, emphasising that they are public Masses that extend a particular welcome to gay people and their parents, families and friends.
But the most important response is that of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of the diocese of Westminster, in which the parish falls. In a supportive statement, he reminds us that
As with every Catholic Mass, the bidding prayers celebrated at the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory ask for the intercession of God in the lives of people who may be in need.
Bidding prayers for every Mass must reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church and this applies to the Mass held every fortnight where a particular welcome is extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered Catholics and their families.
There is no sacrilege in bringing together a group of Catholics for worship. The only sacrilege here is in making an unauthorized recording of that worship for the sole purpose of sowing dissension. There is no dissent expressed in praying that all may be included and treated with respect in the Catholic Church. The only dissent, is in opposing a considered, deliberate pastoral plan by the Archdiocese to put Catholic teaching on respect, compassion and sensitivity into practice.
- Remembering Fr. Howard Hall, Pioneer of Catholic LGBT Ministry (queeringthechurch.com)
- "O Come, ALL Ye Faithful": Church of the Assumption and Saint Gregory. (queeringthechurch.com)
- Towards Full LGBT Inclusion in Faith: Some Signs of the Times. (queeringthechurch.com)
- Theologian's Advice to Gay Catholics: If You Can't Comply - be a Prophetic Voice (queeringthechurch.com)
- 25 Years of LGBT Ministry in LA Diocese (queeringthechurch.com)
- LGBT Ministry: Creating a Queer Welcome in Italy. (queeringthechurch.com)