St Patrick's, Edinburgh, Scotland

St Patrick's, Edinburgh, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper: Fisher
Church: St Patrick's
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 February 2006, 4:30pm

The building

The building has an interesting history. It started life in the 18th century as a Scottish Episcopal church before being taken over by the Presbyterians and, eventually, the Catholics in the 1850s. It became the home church for immigrants from Ireland and the Highlands who moved into the Canongate slums during that century. The exterior is striking but rather plain; perhaps to compensate, the interior is quite ornate and features a marble high altar with rood and a life-size statue of the Crucifixion. There are several side chapels, including a shrine to the Venerable Margaret Sinclair, a saintly local woman who worked in McVitie's biscuit factory. McVitie's is the UK's leading biscuit manufacturer, whose products include the delightful Jaffa Cakes, among others.

The church

St Patrick's has long been closely involved with the Catholic community through hard times. In 2001 the parish was taken over by priests of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (commonly known as the Redemptorist Fathers), a community dedicated to preaching the Good News to the poor. A concern for social justice was apparent from pamphlets at the back with information on fair trade and antipoverty groups. Surprisingly, I saw no literature discussing opportunities for direct involvement in community affairs – I'm sure the Redemptorist Fathers are engaged in various projects and it would have been good to learn how one could help out.

The neighborhood

St Patrick's is just off the Royal Mile, which runs through the centre of the Old Town and is packed with tacky tourist shops. Canongate has definitely gone up in the world since the church was founded – most recently, the new Scottish Parliament building has been put there – although it remains a surprisingly mixed area.

The cast

The Rev. Richard Reid, CSsR.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

At least three-quarters full; I estimated about 250 people. Not bad for a mid-afternoon service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Nobody welcomed me personally. During the service proper, both the reader and the priest offered a warm welcome to visitors. Father Reid extended a special welcome to visitors from "south of the border" (such as me) – it was the day after Scotland's narrow win in the rugby!

Was your pew comfortable?

Adequate. The kneeler wasn't good – so close to the pew in front that it was hard to use (particularly, I imagine, for more well-built members of the congregation).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet conversation in the porch area, very hushed in the pews.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good afternoon and a very warm welcome to St Patrick's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The commonly seen Parish Mass Book (Year B Part 1) was available, but most people just used the service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

A hardworking team of four led the music, with singing accompanied by a keyboard with a tremolo button (see later) and clarinet.

Did anything distract you?

The intercessions were done very well. Instead of the normal rattled-through list of world problems followed by a glibly parroted "Lord, hear us," the priest read out each petition and then left a period for silent prayer. However, the effect of each was completely ruined by a wobbly, tremulous riff from the keyboard before moving on to the next petition. This might be fine for a radio advert for discounts on sofas, but it didn't help me to pray at all.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

I don't think that British Roman Catholic worship styles run a particularly long gamut. This service sat squarely at the simple end, though. There were a few unusual variations, notably the absence of a first reading – I don't know if there was a liturgical reason for this. Despite admirable effort from the leaders, the music was also in the British Catholic tradition.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – Father Reid had an excellent speaking voice and engaging, informal delivery. He seemed very much at home. There was nothing astonishing about his theme, but it was nevertheless an important and practical message.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Father Reid expanded on the passage from 2 Corinthians that speaks of how we need to be living recommendations for our faith – a good Redemptorist topic! People often think of Rome as the heart of the Church, but the worst thing about Rome is its hordes of unsmiling clerics and dour laypeople. Part of being a Christian is to share with those around us the happiness that we should feel.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I enjoyed the brisk, friendly approach to the mass taken by both priest and reader.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

It would have to be the insipid music, and in particular the heavy-handed use of tremolo by the keyboardist.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I felt warmth and a sense of community during the service, but none of this was evident as the mass ended and everyone left fairly quickly. Literature was available for sale at a stall in the back, staffed by a nun named Sister Patricia. I bought an excellent pamphlet on the church's history and chatted briefly with Sister Patricia, who quickly suggested I say hello to the priest. Father Reid turned out to be as personable as the service had suggested, and we chatted about the rugby, his time in Canterbury, and what the Old Town was like during the Edinburgh Festival.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None was on offer, although I understand that Sunday morning masses are followed by refreshments.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – I hope to go back, possibly for a morning service. I would like to see if, given more time, there would be a chance to become part of the parish community.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, there were plenty of good things, and if I didn't think so, I should just review the sermon!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Discovering a saint who got her start in a biscuit factory.

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