THE services at All Saints’, Lambeth, where the Rev. F. G. Lee, D.D., has been Vicar for thirty-two years, have long been notorious. The following report of a choral celebration of Holy Communion fully justifies the reputation which the church has obtained.
The district of All Saints’, Lambeth, embraces some of the most squalid parts of South London. The church is situated in a by-street just off the thoroughfare widely known as the Lower Marsh, which runs from Waterloo Road to Westminster Bridge Road. The Vicar—the Rev. Dr. Lee—who has been there a great many years, has for a long time been associated with the “Catholic revival,” and in regard to both doctrine and ritual it has been always understood that you could be sure of the “correct thing” at All Saints’. Moreover, Dr. Lee is one of the clergymen connected with the Order of Corporate Reunion. It is commonly reported that he looks upon Rome with a tender eye, and there is reason to believe that whatever doubts certain advanced clergy may have about the validity of their Orders, he has absolutely none about his own. It is, too, an interesting indication of the Vicar’s sympathies that amongst the numerous cards at the west end of the church, begging you of your charity to pray for the repose of the soul of So-and-so, is one bearing the name of Cardinal Newman.
I do not know for how long All Saints’ has been notorious for its “Catholic” services, but certainly the church was never built for a display of advanced ritual. It does not even possess a chancel; it has an apse instead. But any difficulty on this score has been removed by the erection across the nave of the church of a wooden screen of slender build, and surmounted by a crucifix and six candles. Within this screen sat choir and clergy. The choir was not a large one, but two of the men had brass instruments, so there was a good volume of sound. Contrary to general custom the clergy seats are at the east end of the stalls farthest away from the people. The High Altar is in the apse. Just below the steps leading to the High Altar there are three chairs, and behind them a large reading-desk, all placed so that anyone using them would be facing eastwards. There are two side-altars, and the whole appearance of the east end seemed rather to suggest that of a not too well-kept Roman Catholic chapel. The church itself looked dirty and decayed; but it is clear that other things at All Saints’ need restoring besides the fabric.
The church seats something like 2000 people, for there are deep galleries along either side and at the west end; but on Sunday morning last, when I was present at Matins and at the choral celebration, it was almost empty. The congregation consisted of two men (one of whom was myself), eight women, and seven children, and of these one woman and two children left the church during the progress of the service. It is quite evident, therefore, that whatever may be the influence of Catholic doctrine and high ritual amongst the leisured classes of the West, they have no power to attract the masses of this parish. It was a melancholy sight-a congregation of seventeen in a church capable of holding 2000, and Dr. Lee, standing before the High Altar, attired in gorgeous vestments and celebrating the Communion to the accompaniment of organ, trumpets, and choir.
Of the service itself not much need be said. It followed the lines with which the reader is by this time familiar, except that the ritual was less ornate than that to be seen at the West End. But seeing that the offertories are so small in amount it is obvious that the strictest economy must be practised. Dr. Lee announced from the altar that on the previous Sunday they amounted to one shilling in the morning and two shillings at night, and threepence at a celebration during the week.
For the celebration there were four candles lighted at the High Altar. Dr. Lee was the celebrant. He wore a green chasuble, and was attended by a lad who acted as server. The Introit having been sung, he began the service at the north side of the altar, only crossing to the south side for the Collect and Epistle, both of which he read facing eastwards. He recrossed to the north side for the Gospel, but before he read it he bowed towards the elements. The sermon-a very short one-was preached by the curate, who, as he passed the small altar in the north aisle on his way to and from the pulpit, ostentatiously bowed towards it. But there was no other evidence of the Reserved Sacrament being there. During the offertory hymn Dr. Lee went to the south corner of the altar and washed his fingers with some water that was brought to him by the server from the credence table, and wiped them with a towel. Returning to the centre of the altar he read the Prayer for the Church Militant, adding to the clause, “And we also bless Thy Holy Name for all Thy servants departed this life in Thy faith and fear,” the words “Particularly those for whom we are bound to pray.” During the singing of the Sanctus the sacring-bell was rung three times by the server, and the celebrant bowed his head over the elements. The Prayer of Consecration was said with the accompaniments usual at such churches, the Benedictus was sung as a preliminary to it; during its recital the sacring-bell was rung at the words “This is My Body,” and again at the words “This is My Blood”; the host was elevated and the celebrant genuflected before the consecrated elements; and at the close the Agnus Dei was sung.
There were no communicants. Dr. Lee turned to the people with the paten in his hand, but no one approached, and he resumed the service. It seems strange that when the service is merely a Mass and not a Communion that the celebrant should not hesitate to use the prayer which contains the words “humbly beseeching Thee, that all we, who are partakers of this Holy Communion …”; but Dr. Lee used it on Sunday as I have heard other priests use it under precisely similar circumstances. The service was then brought to a close. In pronouncing the blessing Dr. Lee made the sign of the cross three times at the mention of the Trinity. A hymn was sung while the ablutions were being performed, and the service finally concluded with the singing of the Nunc Dimittis.
It is hardly necessary to comment upon a service of this kind; it carries with it its own condemnation.
—The Roman Mass in the English Church: Illegal Services Described by Eye-Witnesses, Reprinted by Permission from The Record, with Introduction and Notes (London: Charles J. Thynne, 1899), pp. 50-53.