Thursday, 22 February 2007
Wednesday, 21 February 2007
The picture above shows the imposition of ash at one of the lunctime Masses.
People these days take a great pride in their appearance. Even when, as in my case, the choice of what to wear is between black or black, I spend wasteful moments pondering which shoes to wear, which jacket. There's always that final check in the mirror before I go out.
Today, though, we wear something different - the smudge of ash on our forehead. Nothing could be more contrary to our worries about how we seem, what others think of us, how we need to appear at our best.
Today we are stripped of these things. For as the ash is placed upon our foreheads, we are brought face to face with a terrible reality. That we are not self-sufficient, we are not self-defining. The ugly smear of ash is the mark of our death. It is on our forehead. It cannot be avoided. There can be no pretence, no schemes, no compromise. We stand naked before the fact of our mortality. There is no other outcome.
Our society offers us so many beguiling words today: be young, be beautiful, be rich, be successful. Today we hear other words – dread and sobering words, which give the lie to the beguiling promises of society: "Remember thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return". We hear the sentence of our sins, and we see the false promises for what they are. This body, this world will pass. Here is no abiding city.
It's a shock - but a shock with a purpose. For it is God who breathes life into this lifeless dust, it is God (in his Son) who conquers death, it is God (in Jesus Christ) who makes that smear of ash a reminder of our humanity - not the characteristic of our humanity. The ash speaks to us of sin and death - but not of our ultimate destiny. It does not define us. We set this world and its promises at naught, not because we are destined for oblivion, but because we are destined for paradise.
Be shocked. But be filled with hope. It is not we are destined to become the dust of oblivion - but sin and death itself.
Posted by Mark Langham at 14:00
Tuesday, 20 February 2007
Fr Christopher wisely opted to use the barbeque grill on the roof terrace - there will certainly be no shortage of ash this Ash Wednesday!
Posted by Mark Langham at 21:14
The Westminster chaplains yesterday embraced fraternite' as we travelled to Paris to meet our conterparts at Notre Dame. Our French hosts were very welcoming, the archiprêtre (my oppostie number) even ensuring at Mass that the Organ played Vierne's Carillon de Westminster, based on the chimes of Big Ben!
Follwing a most enjoyable lunch, at which I managed to dredge up my O-level French to make a speech, and where some fine Frnech wine overcame any difficulties in communication, we were given a spectacular tour of the Cathedral. Above is the view of the nave from the organ gallery, and below the magnificent organ itself. The post of organist at Notre Dame is considered the most presigious in all France.
The galleries used to be used as a refuge for pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela.
The flying buttresses, and the view from the rooves, are breathtaking, and Père Norbert proved an enthusiastic guide.
Père Norbert did not fail to point out to us his own appartment, seen behind him in the picture below.
Posted by Mark Langham at 00:27
Monday, 19 February 2007
The Cardinal and his auxiliary bishops today formally welcomed those in Westminster Diocese who are preparing for baptism or reception into the Church at Easter. At this Rite of Election, these candidates are 'elected' or chosen by the Cardinal, and begin their final Lenten preparation for the Easter ceremonies.
The Rite of Election usually takes place on the first Sunday of Lent. However, owing to the large numbers involved, for the past two years we have had to split the ceremony between the two Sundays either side of Ash Wednesday.
Posted by Mark Langham at 04:41
Sunday, 18 February 2007
The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes stands ready to be carried in procession for yesterday afternoon's Mass. A new venture, the Mass both marked the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes last weekend, and also signalled the beginning of preparations for the annual Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes in July.
Posted by Mark Langham at 05:01
Saturday, 17 February 2007
We recently undertook maintenance work on the Grand Organ, and I thank Simon, our organ scholar, for these revealing photographs. The work was undertaken to improve piston reliability by cleaning the metal contacts.
What sounds like a small job was increased by the fact that in order to gain access to the pistons each of the 244 keys had to be individually removed. These were (as the pictures show) very dusty, and need to be cleaned before being replaced.
The pistons had become unreliable over time because of the build up of dirt and dust interfering with metal contacts. The most surprising object found beneath the keys was a finger nail clipping!
It is about 20 years since the last major work on the Grand Organ, by Harrison and Harrison, when a similar cleaning would have been given.
The person in pictures is Andy Scott – Harrison and Harrison’s London tuner. He looks after the Cathedral's Grand Organ.
Simon was, however, pressed into service, and here he is cleaning one of the keys.
Posted by Mark Langham at 06:17
Friday, 16 February 2007
Most biographies record today as the anniversary of the death of Cardinal Wiseman, first Archbishop of Westminster. However, according to the inscription by his tomb in the Cathedral crypt, yesterday was the day.
Cardinal Wiseman, of course, died before the Cathedral was built. His funeral took place at St Mary Moorfields (by Liverpool Street Station in the City), and he was buried in a grand ceremony at St Mary's Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green (near Paddington). A contemporary illustration from the Illustrated London News (below) shows the size of the gathering. In 1907, Cardinal Bourne gained permission from the Home Secretary to remove the remains of Cardinals Wisman and Manning to the newly opened Cathedral.
Cardinal Wiseman lies directly beneath the High Altar, in the small chapel of St Edmund. His tomb is the only gothic monument in this otherwise Byzantine Cathedral, and was designed by Edward Pugin, son of the more famous Augustus Welby Pugin.
Panels around the monument depict scenes from the Cardinal's life; firstly, his consecration as Archbishop by Pope Pius IX in 1840 (below).
Below, Cardinal Wiseman presides over the first Provinical Synod of Westminster at Oscott in 1852, when John Henry Newman preached his famous 'Second Spring' sermon.
Posted by Mark Langham at 10:08
Thursday, 15 February 2007
Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Usually hidden from public gaze is this large icon of Sts Cyril and Methodius, firmly attached to the wall of the long corridor in Clergy House. I do not know of its provenance, but suspect it may have been acquired by Mgr Wheeler or Mgr Bartlett, both former Administrators and notable art collectors.
Sts Cyril (826 - 869) and Methodius (815 -885) were brothers who evangelised the slavic peoples. Their genius (they laid the foundations for what become known as the 'cyrillic alphabet' still in use in Eastern Europe) meant that Christianity was enthusiastically received by the southern slav nations. Pope John Paul II declared them patrons of Europe, along with St Benedict.
Our icon has both eastern and western elements and was probably made in Russia. St Cyril is shown in the monk's habit which he assumed towards the end of his life. Fr Slawek impressively translated the Russian inscriptions above the figures. On the left 'Holy Man of God Methodius' and on the right 'Holy Man of God Cyril'.
Posted by Mark Langham at 09:17