Monday, May 9

Andrew Cusack described a visit recently to a former Irvingite church, a house of worship for one of the more peculiar of England's shortlived religions. I came across the Irvingites, or the so-called "Catholic Apostolic Church" in a chapter on their peculiarly grandiose church furnishings in Peter Frederick Anson's fascinating book Fashions in Church Furnishings, 1840-1940. The group started out as Scottish Protestants and somehow inexplicably morphed into something halfway between high-Church Anglicanism and Swedenborgian mysticism with a touch of the Mormon enthusiasm for new revelations, in an effort to reconstruct what they supposed the primitive Christian Church looked like. The exact way this happened this remains somewhat mystifying to me, but apparently one of the Irvingite elders one day found himself watching a Catholic Mass on a visit to France and believed he had received a revelation that this was the way God wished He wanted to be worshipped. Strangely enough, the dour Scotsmen of this sect took almost instantaneously to oil lamps, altars, vestments, church music, organs, chrism, holy water and all the wonderful things that make being a Catholic so much fun.

In some instances (excepting their peculiar preference for oil lamps over candles), they seemed to even outdo Anglo-Catholics with their zeal for ritualistic exoticism. Each parish, theoretically, had an army of assisting clergy (at least twenty-four priests), headed up by an "angel" or bishop. They had a sort of exposition ("proposition") of their form of the Eucharist twice daily, as well as morning, mid-afternoon and evening offices, and a "low" celebration of the Eucharist daily, with something like a High Mass on Sundays. Their liturgy was a strange combination of Catholic, Anglican, Greek and "Free Church" practice. The last "apostle" of the church died out in 1901, and since there had been a decision to no longer ordain any priests, the church and its ritual have since withered away to one or two small working parishes and many empty and surprisingly beautiful places of worship.

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