A PUG1NFSQUE Catholic church nestled in a fold in the Berkshire Downs marks its centenary on Sunday. But St. Mary's, East Hendred, is as up-to-date as nary Harwell.
For though the village can claim that Mass has been said regularly and continously since long before the Reformation, St. Mary's priests and parishioners make most other Catholics look ol-i-fashioned.
Here. where the Eyston family for 500 years housed — and sometimes hid — a Catholic chaplain who served also as parish priest, there is the best of blends: the traditional church and the aggiornamento church have embraced.
The congregation democratically elected officers for the centenary committee — then cast' their ballots for a centenary project. Their choice? Educating a priest for the diocese.
Soon they will vote for a parish committee which will determine the future fiscal and social programme , for the village. Much to the delight of Fr. Charles Steward, the parish priest, who said this week: "I consider that if we ask people to participate in a lay apostolate we roust give them the social organs to do so. If these are denied and they are unable to express themselves, the result is either a Boston Tea Party, or apathy."
Proof of his attitude is in the reading. The parish bulletin is wide'open to anyone with something to say. One recent Comment stated:
"The parish has extended a cordial welcome to Fr. Joseph Cocker. He is known to be 'with it' and the cordiality of the parishioners reflects their desires to understand the outlook of the modern church." The following issue studied the question of children's confessions; this month a nun answered the primary school teacher's stand.
In the current issue, too, the bulletin lays things on the line ecumenically: "Within living memory Catholic children have called their village neighbour Proty dogs'. There have been hard feelings on both sides of the denominational wall. Such feelings have softened remarkably . . . the good things about these hundred years is not growth in numbers, but growth in tolerance."
Ecumenism is one touchstone for the parish. In addition to a small joint Bible study with Anglicans, there have been joint services in each other's churches and recently a discussion with Anglican and Free Church members on "Why we cannot worship together sacramentally." It was led by Fr. Henry St. John, 0.P., consultant on the Cardinal's Ecumenical Commission.
More similar gatherings are in the offing. But this forwardlooking approach applies to home ground too. The modern Catholic school, St. Arriand's, has adopted wholeheartedly the kerygmatic approach to teaching religion to young children. Lumen Vitae is almost a password.
None of this foregoing has dealt with the church. quilt on ground which belonged to Hendred House, the home of the Eystons, the church was paid for by Charles John Eyston. A presbytery was built across the road at the expense of the parish priest, Canon Thomas Luck. A covered bridge over the roadway connects the two.
The Canon, later vicar-general of the Portsmouth diocese, was a friend of Pugin, and the likeness between the church and Pugin's Benedictine monastery church at Ramsgate is obvious. Yet with rood screen and large altar, which comfortably and naturally houses the smaller altar from which the priest faces the congregation. St. Mary's seems built for today.
A small choir opens the Mass by leading the congregation in a hymn. There is full participation throughout the service, and at Communion the communicants come up the aisle in single file. Two at a time they kneel before the priest and receive the Host. The effect is personal and meaningful.
After Mass there is always a bulletin to be read, or a ballot form to take home. Envelopes are issued for collections.
But progressivism is not followed for its own sake. The parishioners are becoming increasingly involved. And in the village it is apparently traditional. More than 35 years ago the then pastor (Dr. B. V. Miller) noted in his diary" responses aloud" at the morning dialogue Mass.
The whole thing swings a full circle, for it was Thomas Eyston who was elected chairman of the centenary committee. And on Sunday afternoon, after the 3 p.m. centenary Mass, he and his mother, Lady Agnes, will be host and hostess to the entire village at a tea marking the close of the celebrations.
Close to the marquee where the tea will be served is the Eyston family chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is still reserved — a rare privilege in a private home. The chapel, St. Amend's, dates back to 1265. But that's just one more anniversary for East Bendred.