Fr. Jim Lawlor and the community of the Immaculate Conception parish in Maryhill welcomed the St. Mungo Singers to their parish for an evening service on 7 December which combined a celebration of Our Lady on the vigil of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a carol service. And just for good measure it offered an opportunity to give practical support to the local Greater Maryhill Foodbank. The church was warm and welcoming, and beautifully decorated with flowers and candles.
It was a truly beautiful and contemplative service. Fr. Jim offered reflections on the character and virtues of Mary as a linking theme in a way which gave great focus to the liturgy. He began with the generosity of Mary shown in her life, a suitable link for the second of the carols sung by the choir as the congregation gathered – “In the Bleak Mid-winter” – with its final verse “What can I give him?”. (it has to be said that the carol also suited the weather outside where the rain was battering down and the wind was howling.)
The service began on a joyful note with the antiphon “I rejoiced when I heard them say “Let us go to the house of God””. Fr.Jim welcomed everyone who had braved the weather. He identified among the themes of the service: the beginning of the Year of Religious; the need to put into practice our faith; Mary the model of charity. Among those present in the congregation to reflect some of those themes were representatives of many religious congregations including the Missionaries of Charity, the Sisters of Notre Dame, the Sisters of Sion, the Mill Hill Fathers, the Marists, representatives of the Foodbank and members of Maryhill Parish Church and others.
The candles on the altar were lit to begin the service as the choir led the singing of James Quinn’s lovely “O Light from Light”. The psalms for the evening were Gerry Fitzpatrick’s new setting of Psalm 148 – a psalm of praise – and David Harris’ setting of Psalm 83 – a song of joy at finding a home in the Lord’s house. The reading between was the poetry of Isaiah 63: 16-17; 64: 1, 3-8. At the end of this first section, Fr. Jim invited us to pray in silence with Mary, woman of silence and model of contemplatives who “pondered these things in her heart”.
The next section began with the lovely carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, followed by the story of the Visitation as told in St. Luke’s Gospel. Then there was a short reflection from Fr. Jim. He recalled one couple, among the many he had known, who had invited him to share in their joy at their new-born baby, visiting the hospital just after the birth. That moment had stayed with him. He invited us to reflect on Mary who contemplates and shares her son, who says little in the Gospels but ponders much and who must give away her Son.
We should seek to live this life also, he said, being drawn to Jesus, contemplating and finding ways of sharing him with others. The Foodbank was one way of doing this. We cannot change the world by ourselves or solve all its problems but we can “inject” Christ into it and ensure people know they are not forgotten. Action for their good is our peace and God’s glory. As the congregation took time to think over Fr. Jium’s words, Noel Donnelly played Karl Jenkins’ Benedictus on the clarsach.
The intercessions followed, introduced by the singing of the Hail Mary. We prayed for the end of war and hunger,that Christians would find in themselves a space for Christ to be conceived this Advent and that we each would become better disciples of the Lord. The congregation was then invited to come forward and lay a small Christmas gift before the icon on the sanctuary for distribution to those served by the Maryhill Foodbank. The altar steps were soon overflowing with donations from the generosity of those present.
The final part of the service began with the singing of Mary’s great song of praise – the Magnificat – followed by a prayer of dedication over the gifts made, and one of our best loved carols “Silent Night”. As we looked forward to the joy of Christmas we were reminded of the fulfilment of the promise of salvation in the coming of Christ, as told in the wonderful words of the Prologue of St. John “In the beginning was the Word” – Frank Docherty’s setting of these words was led by cantor and choir. The coming joy of Christmas was anticipated in the wholehearted rendition of the final carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”.
The parish community then treated everyone to refreshments and food in the parish hall, ensuring that the night was less bleak than when we had arrived.