April 24 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

9-St-Aloysius

Good Friday reminder of our father’s Faith

By Kevin McKenna

IT’S too easy, I think, for those of us who are Catholics living and working in Glasgow to fail to appreciate what a gift St Aloysius Church is to us. It is never been far away from all the big moments in my life and, if there was to be a video to accompany the sound-track of my years in this world, that lovely big church on the hill behind the Mackintosh building would be in most of the shots.

I remember it vaguely featuring sporadically in my pre-school years when my mother would meet my gran in the town for torturous clothes shopping expeditions up and down Sauchiehall Street. On what must have been holidays of obligation I remember being swaddled in the smell of candlewax, incense and the perfume of all those warm and comfortable women in their black lace and hats.

Years later it featured again during haphazard bursts of ecclesiastical zeal when I would rack up several daily appearances in a row at the fabled St Al’s early lunchtime Mass for the purpose of impressing some devout and cautious Catholic female students whom I was keen to get to know better. On other occasions some of those wise old English Jesuits heard my Confessions on afternoons following another bacchanal when drink and other substances had been ingested and there had been bad language.

And then there was Lent and Easter when the annual target was to achieve the full Catholic set of your ashes on Ash Wednesday and then, six weeks later Holy Thursday and the stripping of the altar, the Kissing of the Cross and the Easter Vigil. These days are always very special to me but at St Aloysius, there was an extra special sense of devotion and of renewal. You felt you could go in for battle for God against the fell forces of wicked secularism for the rest of the year after observing Easter at St Al’s. Everything was possible and reckless promises would be made. And when, after another year of making shabby compromises with the world, this church would be there to pick you up again.

Until Good Friday earlier this month I had neglected St Aloysius apart from the odd Sunday 9pm soul-saver when a sudden stab of guilty devotion saw me scurrying over to Hill Street to attend the last Mass in Europe. How many times had I walked past it in the course of a week, knowing it was but a few streets away but still finding something more important to do?

This Good Friday though, I knew I would be in the city centre and that there was nothing to stop me attending the 3pm Kissing of the Cross. If you’ve never been to this church then little else in Scotland can prepare you for what greets you when you enter it. It was always magnificent but following its refurbishment a few years ago its baroque beauty was revivified. If you were to visit this church 100 times you would still never identify all of its secrets and charms hidden behind pillars and side altars and in the stonework and iconography. Yet amidst the splendour and the detail there is peace here and, instantly, the tumult of the city outside is arrested and quieted. God is here and the doubts of His Real Presence that begin to gnaw at your soul by too many hours spent in the pursuit of earthly riches just fall away and are replaced by the childhood Faith of your fathers.

There was a lot that made last Good Friday a very special one, but the singing of the St Aloysius choir (there was about 40 of them) throughout made you wonder why you would ever contemplate not being here for this. As soon as the first cadences in the old language began to rise you found yourself overcome as tears began to sting your eyes. And then you do that west of Scotland male thing at a time such as this by glancing furtively around to ensure no one can observe you in such a state. And you wonder how you can make the act of wiping away a tear look like something else.

And as the service unfolds in all its ancient devotion you remember once more why you feel privileged to have been born with this faith and you are filled with the glorious certainty that nothing will ever replace it no matter how often you feel estranged from it.

We were also blessed this day with the words of a rather wonderful and learned English Jesuit who taught us something about Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and his death by popular acclaim just a few days later. Gently he explained the paradox of why the Jerusalem crowds seemed to have gone from a state of adoration to one of murderous intent in such a short space of time. “They were two different crowds,” he told us. The Palm Sunday tumult included sinners, drinkers, tax collectors and prostitutes; all those to whom Jesus had reached out during his public ministry. The vengeful mob, on the other hand, were the well-heeled captains and leaders of society and all those others who felt their authority was most threatened by Jesus’ words and existence. “Which crowd do we belong to,” he asked us.

And so another little renewal occurred at St Aloysius and, while lighting a candle at the Lady Altar for a special intention, I made a pledge not to leave it too long before my next visit.

 

—Kevin McKenna is a writer for the London-based Sunday Observer

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