We have freedom to assemble to worship in our chosen way

CC-St._John_the_Baptist,_BrightonAttending Mass on Easter Day, seeing the candles, the use of Holy Water, the flowers, the vestments, hearing the hymns, and above all receiving the Sacrament, quite openly in the light of day and all not long after reading about the abhorrence in which all of these were held during the harsh prohibitions of the 16th century brought home vividly how fortunate we now are in the United Kingdom to have freedom to assemble to worship in our chosen way.

This freedom did not come easily, as we know, Catholics were persecuted in one way or another for a very long time, our legal emancipation did not come until well into the 19th century, until then we could be fined or imprisoned – or in the early days – sometimes worse. Members of the ‘old faith’ kept their heads down and were quiet about their allegiance. This sometimes shows in the history of our liturgical practices.

CC-800px-Church_of_the_Sacred_Heart,_Norton_Road,_Hove_02It can also be seen in the age of our churches as well as in their size and situation. The majority are late Victorian and Gothic in style and layout, like the Anglican’s medieval churches, and most often in large towns with a group of Catholics and any country dwellers might find them. There are a few older ones with something interesting to account for them. One such is in Brighton, built in 1779 when the town was becoming fashionable and attracting visitors, one of whom was the Catholic Mrs Fitzherbert, the morganatic wife of the Prince of Wales, but it was another 70 years before it was consecrated.

In recent years more Catholic churches have been built and often in very different styles, some quite notable in their appearance – not trying to shrink CC-800px-St_Joseph's_RC_Church,_Elm_Grove,_Brighton_05into the background now but announcing our presence confidently. We had freedom to worship, but the fears and prejudices of the preceding centuries were not wiped out and many of us will recall instances of this misunderstanding in the not very distant past, but it grows less, even in strong non-Conformist districts. We are still sometimes seen as odd, but no longer dangerous or severely misguided – we are accepted and tolerated now.

Pamela Ostler