“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15).
These verses epitomise the importance of the Soho Masses. For this reason I am glad that the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has reaffirmed his support for the Masses and also comfortable with his reminder that they must not oppose or confuse church teaching.
Gay men and lesbians know the benefits to mental health of living the truth, by coming out honestly in the truth of their lives. The closet is a lie. We need to be honest, and that includes honesty in Church. Part of the value of any Mass is as a great communal act of worship where we should all expect and find welcome and community with our fellows. In the Masses at Warwick Street, this expectation is met.
There are many reasons why individuals attend. For some men, the perceived (or experienced) hostility of the Church has led them to reject it entirely. This may result in taking up the hedonistic lifestyle that is often (incorrectly) associated with gay male culture. Some of our people tell how they fell into that trap, but returning to regular Mass, became able to resist such temptations. Others have been attending other denominations – but appreciate being able to return to a “real” Mass.
Others have been attending local parishes, but only superficially, avoiding awkward questions about their lives and family, by simply attending Mass, without participation in broader church life. These find in Soho a community, and a possibility of wider participation, that they are unable to experience in their local parishes. Then there are some who participate in two parishes: locally, and in Soho for the pleasure of fellowship with others like themselves – or for the excellent quality of the Mass we provide.
These Masses are widely misrepresented by our critics. They are emphatically not a place for campaigns against church teaching, nor are the refreshment times occasions for sexual hook-ups. While the question of celibacy is not directly discussed or even raised, there is a tacit understanding of the Church’s teaching, including its teaching on conscience. Our Masses are really much like any other – just better done, in the quality of the liturgy, congregational participation, homilies, and refreshment time afterwards, where discussions are livelier, and the welcome warmer, than in any other parish I have ever known.
Outside Mass, we sometimes offer small group discussions for Lent or Advent, days of recollection and retreats, just as other parishes do – but with a rather stronger percentage of our people participating than in conventional parishes.
What particularly characterises our community is the deep commitment of so many of us. Some of us travel extraordinary distances to attend, in addition to participation in our local parishes.
For many, the experience of regular attendance deepens and strengthens our faith. Many who have not previously attended local parishes begin to do so, some who have done, begin to participate more actively. Indirectly, our Mass is strengthening other parishes too. We are reaching many people who have been estranged from the Church, drawing them back into it. In doing so, we are delivering an important service to them and the wider Church community.
I am deeply grateful to Archbishop Nichols for this most welcome assurance that they are to continue, as I am for his support in the past – and his reminder in a BBC interview in 2010 to critics that it is not up to any one of us to judge the interior state of another’s conscience.