Thursday, 30 November 2006

St Andrew, brother of Simon Peter

The mosaic of St Andrew, from his chapel, heralds his feast day. The chapel of St Andrew fittingly contains many Scottish elements, and granite from Scotland is used in decoration, but it is as patron of Greece that his memory is most honoured, in this most thoroughly Byzantine of all our chapels. The shimmering mosaic of the ceiling, the furniture closely modelled on byzantine originals - even the ostrich egg (symbol of perfection) enclosed in the chandelier, all breathe the spirit of Byzantium.

However, Scotland is recalled in various details, including the thistles decorating the top of the screen, and the names of Scottish saints engraved around the walls. The mosaic image of the town of St Andrews is included in the depictions of locations relating to the saint's relics; they also include Patras (whither Pope Paul VI returned his head), and Amalfi, where the remainder of his body exudes (so I was told when visiting) an oil used to anoint pregnant women! In this chapel, relics of the saint are housed in a celtic cross just above the altar.

St Andrew was, of course, a fisherman from Bethsaida, before being called to follow the Lord. His trade is recalled in the marble pattern on the floor, depicting a flowing river and, alongside it, river and sea creatures.

Lord, we pray for the people of Scotland
Bless them with peace and prosperity.
Help us all, like St Andrew,
To hear Jesus' call to be his disciple,
And to make his gospel known in our world.

Meeting the Patriarch

The Holy Father is in Turkey, and much Press coverage focusses on his relations with Islam. However, for Catholics the most significant part of his visit is his meeting with the Orthodox patriarch Bartholomew. A group from the Cathedral had the privilege of meeting him two years ago, when we visited Istanbul on pilgrimage. The Patriarch was a deeply impressive character, radiating holiness and intelligence, and deeply interested in the Byzantine heritage of Westminster Cathedral. He spoke flawless English, and told us that he had studied in Rome -undoubtedly this contributes to his openness to the Latin Church. Our meeting with him took place a few days before he travelled to Rome again, to collect the relics of St John Chrysostom. At his side is Archbishop Gregorios, head of the Orthodox Church in Great Britain (and a familiar figure to us at the Cathedral) who was visiting Istanbul at the time.

The Great Church

On this Feast of St Andrew, it is appropriate to recall that legend claims the brother of St Peter as the first Bishop of Constantinople, itself the sister of Rome.

Today the Holy Father, on his visit to Turkey, will visit Haghia Sophia, the ancient Church of the Holy Wisdom of God, known to the ancient world simply as 'The Great Church.' It is, to my mind, one of the most extraordinary buildings in the world, and the pinnacle of Byzantine achievement. Its celebrated dome was believed by many to be suspended from heaven, and its beauty so overwhelmed the emperor Justinian that as he entered the newly completed Church on 27 December 537, he is reputed to have murmured, "Solomon, I have surpassed thee!"

The Great Church has, alas, been the scene of some of the most dramatic, and painful, episodes of Church history. In 1057, Cardinal Humbert, the Papal Legate, threw upon its altar the Bull excommunicating the Patriarch, Michael Cerularios - an act held to have marked the beginning of the Schism between Catholic and Orthodox Churches. In 1204 Crusaders, led by the blind Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, sacked Haghia Sophia, and set a prostitute to dance in the Patriarch's throne in mockery of the Greek rituals.

On Monday 28 May 1453, with the Turkish army massing for its final attack upon constantinople, the last Emperor of the Byzantines, Constantine Palaiologus, joined Orthodox and Latins in prayer in the Great Church. Differences forgotten, he begged forgiveness of all, as they prayed for deliverance of the city. The next day, the city fell, and a terrified populace rushed to Haghia Sophia in the vain hope that it would offer safety. The doors were battered in, and the Turkish conquerors killed or enslaved those inside. It is said that the monks carried on chanting the Divine Office until the moment they were snatched. Shortly afterwards, the Turkish Sultan Mehmed the II entered the Great Church, commanded that its crosses be thrown down, and that it become a Mosque. The Turks had long prized the building, and have looked after it well; their greatest architect, Sinan, payed homage to it again and again in his mosques which dominate the Istanbul skyline. In 1935, Haghia Sophia was converted into a museum, and the surviving mosaics - of exquisite beauty - were uncovered and restored.

The visit today of the Pope is therefore rich in symbolism, and a powerful message of healing and reconciliation. Let us pray that this difficult visit to Istanbul may bring a greater understanding between faiths, and point to a restoration of unity between Catholic and Orthodox Chrisitanity. It is a poignant moment especially for us at Westminster, where our Cathedral owes so much in architecture, decoration and (above all) spiritual atmosphere to the Great Church of Constantinople.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Winter Light

Yesterday began overcast, wet, and forbidding. By the afternoon, it had become a crisp, bright November day, with the low winter sunlight flooding into the Cathedral.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

St Juthwara - or rather, St Ivel?

Perhaps my favourite entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints concerns St Juthwara, whose Feast is celebrated on this (for me) not insignificant day. The slightly acid tone of the piece hints that its author had clearly had his fill of implausible martyrology.

"Juthwara (date unknown), virgin (and martyr?) was British, perhaps from Cornwall. ... Her legend is a farrago of impossibilities. According to this story.. she was the victim of a jealous stepmother. Juthwara, a pious girl who practised much prayer, fasting and alms-giving, suffered after her father's death from a pain in the chest, brought on perhaps by her sorrow and austerities. The stepmother recommended a remedy of two cheeses applied to her breasts: meanwhile she told her own wicked son, called Bana, that Juthwara was pregnant.

He accused her, found that her underclothes were moist, and struck of her head there and then. The usual spring of water then appeared; Juthwara carried her head back to the church. Bana repented, became a monk, and founded a monastery...

She is depicted with her sister Sidwell on the screens of Hennock and Ashton (Devon); her usual emblem is a cream cheese, or a sword ..."

Monday, 27 November 2006

Designing with Light

The light creates its own patterns on the unfinished upper walls of the Cathedral.

"I'd like to be there when you try..."

Thomas Wolsey: You'd like that, wouldn't you? To govern the country with prayers?

Thomas More: Yes, I should.

Thomas Wolsey: I'd like to be there when you try.

I often have cause to ponder Cardinal Wolsey's words (from "A Man for All Seasons") at the Cathedral, as inevitably I find myself caught up in the world of finances. Today was spent largely poring over accounts and setting budgets for 2007 - something about which I know little. Luckily, I am able to draw upon a large pool of expertise.

The requirement to increase revenue, to fundraise (something I am increasingly required to do), and even to talk about money is one I acknowledge reluctantly. A Cathedral is a House of God, a priest is a man of prayer, and that should be the end of the matter. However, the Church exists in this world, and Cathedrals need to pay their way. Inevitably, finances occupy a great deal of my time. If one cares about the Cathedral, and its ministry, then it must be so, for we cannot provide the service we do, develop our facilities, or preserve our heritage, unless we ensure that we are financially sound. With funding neither from Government, Diocese, nor Vatican, then we must raise funds ourselves, and ask our worshippers and parishioners to be as generous as they can.

One thing that would never be done is to charge admission; in some ways I would prefer to see the Cathedral closed down, for such a development would be utterly contrary to the sign we wish to give, that God's House is open for all, and welcomes all. However, that means we must be ingenious and determined in our strategy - and so it is that I spend all day on finances.

We have some good programmes in place for the coming year, and are in a position to plan with more accuracy and openness. But we must keep those prayers up, and never lose sight of the real purpose of the Cathedral - perhaps St Thomas was really on to something!

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Viva Cristo Rey!

Fr Miguel Pro was not an exceptional priest – a good one, but then so are many others. He would certainly never have considered himself a hero. However, it is often circumstances that create the hero, and Fr Miguel lived in extraordinary times. In 1925, President Calles of Mexico embarked upon a fierce persecution of the Church. Miguel, who had trained with the Jesuits in Belgium, returned to Mexico in 1927, to face a dangerous life in the run. Graham Greene compared him to the English Jesuits of the sixteenth century, his modest working suit recalling the everyday disguises they had to adopt. In his travelogue The Lawless Roads, Graham Greene describes the situation:

“With two months of Pro’s landing, President Calles had begun the fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth. The churches were closed. Mass had to be said secretly in private houses; to administer the sacraments was a serious offence. Nevertheless, Pro gave communion daily to some three hundred people, confessions were heard in half-built houses in darkness, retreats were held in garages … The prisons were filling up, priests were being shot, yet on three successive first Fridays, Pro gave the Sacrament to nine hundred, thirteen hundred, and fifteen hundred people.”

Eventually betrayed, Pro was executed on November 23 1927: President calles, thinking to dishearten the religious party, ensured the event was photographed. Above is the haunting image of Fr Pro standing with arms outstretched before the firing squad, rosary clasped in one hand. As the soldiers fired, Fr Miguel shouted “Viva Cristo Rey!” – Christ the King lives!

Fr Miguel Pro was affirming his belief in the ultimate victory of Christ, and this is what today’s feast boldly proclaims. Our Lord is King over all, even over sin, war, terror and death. In our world, so afflicted with the scars of human hatred and greed, it can seem that evil is rampant and Satan triumphant. Today, the Feast of Christ the King, with Fr Pro we assert that evil will never be victorious. Christ will always conquer, and goodness will prevail. Faced with a world uncertain of the outcome in the struggle between good and evil, the Christian has the courage to proclaim fearlessly with Fr Miguel, ‘Viva Cristo Rey!

Saturday, 25 November 2006

November Afternoon

The extraordinary, soaring space of the Cathedral brings upon the worshipper a sense of eternity. Even more than the architecture, the vast space that it contains raises the heart and mind to God.

Awake the Silence of the Morn

There is something intensely powerful about praying in the small hours of the night. As a seminarian, I remember Bishop Crowley advising us to practice prayer - on occasion - in the stillness of the night; something I have rarely done. A visit to the Cistercians, at Mount St Bernard's Abbey in Leicstershire, had a deep impact, as the monks sang the Divine Office in the early morning, their gentle chant rising in the vast dark space of the Church - no congregation save the angels and saints. It was praise for God alone, free from all other distractions.

As we prayed the Office of Matins (or Office of Readings) at 3.00am this morning, that same feeling returned strongly. In the massive darkness of the Cathedral, all our prayer was intensely focussed on the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, a pool of light in that encompassing gloom. The Office Hymn prayed, "Now as our anthems, upward borne, awake the silence of the morn/ enrich us with thy gifts of grace, from heav'n, thy blissful dwelling place!" There was a sense of timelessness, and of reaching out beyond this world to commune with the Divine, as the soft chant gently went forth into the night.

Friday, 24 November 2006

The Second Night of Watching

Throughout the day, scores of people have come to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. This image was taken just after 8.00pm, when there over 200 people in the Cathedral. How many blessings are sure to flow from this time of adoration!

In the Still of the Night

Images taken during the Quarant'Ore devotion. The Office of Matins was celebrated at 3.00pm, and around twenty people stayed all night in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Opening of the Quarant'Ore

Bishop John Arnold celebrating 5.30pm Mass this evening at the beginning of the Forty Hours' devotion (often known by its italian name as 'Quarant'Ore'). During this time the Cathedral will be open continuously day and night for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. In accordance with the Holy Father's will, this time is intended to foster devotion to Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, and to reflect upon how the Eucharist transforms our lives and our world.

Detail of the Apse

Taken just after Mass this morning: the lovely balcony seems a whimsy. I have never discovered a purose for it or its companion across the apse.

Happy Thanksgiving Day

We celebrated Mass this morning for Thanksgiving Day, and were joined by many American friends and parishioners. After many enquiries last year, we gladly agreed to this year's celebration.

I have always thought Thanksgiving Day a lovely feast; a time when, as a nation and as individuals, Americans step back from the business and conerns of daily life, to reckon up their blessings, and give thanks to God.

Giving thanks is something that, by and large, we are not good at. We are particularly bad at it where God is concerned. Yet it is important to do - not merely as a matter of politeness, but for a healthy relationship with God. If we only ever ask God for things, or beg his forgiveness, our relationship will be characterised by distance, emphasising his difference and distance from us. We must also bring thanksgiving into our prayer, for it lightens the load, and allows us to stand tall before God - something he very much wants to happen!

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Winter Sunshine on the Campanile

The evening light was beautiful, as I was walking back to the Cathedral this afternoon.

Cardinal Arinze's Sermon at the Academic Mass

Here is the text of the sermon preached by Cardinal Arinze at the Academic Mass for London University's Catholic Chaplaincies, held at the Cathedral on 19 November:

"It is with a spirit of gratitude to Almighty God, and of joy in his service, that we gather at this Academic Mass in this sacred place, to commemorate and celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the foundation of the Catholic Chaplaincy to the London Universities. I thank His Eminence, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Father Peter Wilson for this invitation. I bring to the entire Chaplaincy staff and to the Universities’ Staff and Students the blessings and good wishes of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. For a person like me who studied in the University of London Institute of Education in the 1963-1964 Academic year, participation in this day’s celebration brings special joy.
In the Responsorial Psalm 15(16) which we sang after the first lesson on this 33rd Sunday in the year, we rejoice at the Lord’s presence because of the guidance which he gives us through our Catholic faith. Verse 11 summarizes this state of soul:

“You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever”.

What does my Catholic faith do for me? How does one live this faith in a multi-religious academic community? How does my Catholic faith inspire my vocation in life?

These are the three points on which we shall now reflect.

Let me put to myself a question. What does my Catholic faith do for me? What has it meant for me in my more than seventy years of life? How has it served me and guided me in days of joy and sorrow, light and cloud?

My Catholic faith gives meaning and a sense of direction to my life. It offers me indispensable light to know where I come from, where I am going, and how I can get there. The most important piece of information when a person is going to a place is to know where he or she is going. Then it will be crucial to know the means to get there.

The Second Vatican Council already documented that people seek in the various religions some answers to the fundamental questions which accompany, and sometimes torment, human existence here on earth: “What is a man? What is the meaning and the purpose of our life? What is goodness and what is sin? What gives rise to our sorrows and to what intent? Where lies the path to true happiness? What is the truth about death, judgment, and retribution beyond the grave? What, finally, is that ultimate and unutterable mystery which engulfs our being, and whence we take our rise, and whither our journey leads us? (Nostra Aetate, 1).
My Catholic faith supplies me a clear and dynamic answer. God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him for ever in the next. St Augustine found this out after making many expensive mistakes in his youth. He cried to God: “You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it repose in you” (Conf I, 1). Realizing late in life that his final joy could not be found in the creatures of God but in the God of those creatures, St Augustine confessed: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you, yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace” (Conf VII, 27).
My Catholic faith gives unity and meaning to my life. Otherwise the various things I do, or bear, or receive or hope for in life would be like scattered mosaics without a unified meaning. My daily duties would be one monotonous and dull detail after another, without connected meaning. I would be facing heat, cold, traffic jam, insistent telephone calls and endless office meetings which make every new day saluted with lack of enthusiasm, if not with a sense of boredom, meaninglessness and growing tiredness.
On the contrary, my Catholic faith is a dynamic and bright lantern for my path in life. It shows me Jesus as the way, the truth and the life (cf. Jn 14:6). It harmonizes my duties as a citizen and as a Christian (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 43). It excludes all divorce between my Sunday Mass and my duties on Monday to Saturday. My plans and hopes, my achievements and failures, my pains and aches as one grows older, and my joys and celebrations of milestones in life are all given a vital synthesis and sense of direction. I do not live with a pessimistic melancholy outlook on life. I have no temptations to suicide because such are often based on seeing no meaning in life. With St Paul I can humbly say that I know in whom I have believed and I have every reason to put my trust in Christ Jesus (cf. II Tim 1:12).

How does a Catholic professor, lecturer, student or other university staff live the Catholic faith in the academic community which in our times is becoming more and more pluralistic from the religious point of view?

We start by noting that religious plurality is a fact particularly in our times. Some elements such as the following have contributed to people of many religions living and working side by side: increasing ease of modern travel, the mass media, especially the television, the radio, the computer, the internet and their derivatives, and change of address for reasons of study, diplomatic service, trade, business or cultural exchange. A Catholic, indeed any Christian, should have an attitude of respect, listening welcome, open heart and readiness for co-operation with persons of other religious convictions.
A prior and necessary requirement, however, is that one be properly and clearly inserted in our Catholic faith community. It is a risk to try to meet people of other religions if one does not have a clear idea of one’s Catholic identity and a calm insertion in it. A country does not send as its ambassador a citizen who cannot distinguish the flag of his country from two other flags, who has forgotten the name of the President or King/Queen of his country and of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and who cannot sing the National Anthem!
A Catholic who is not well inserted in our Catholic faith and community is threatened by many dangers in the academic community. There is the error of secularism which lives or wants to conduct society as if God did not exist, as if religion were a private property which must not be allowed to show its face in public. There is religious or theological relativism which denies objective truth in any religion, which assumes the attitude that one religion is as good as another, and which is practically saying that your religion is true for you and my religion is true for me, as if sincerity were the only virtue and were the objective criterion of truth! Every teacher knows that sincerity is not enough, otherwise all students would pass the mathematics examination. Practical materialism can become equivalent to implicit or practical atheism when only material things are taken seriously and the existence of God is denied or ignored. The error of liberalism, which can sometimes approach indifferentism, is that of people who regard themselves as superior to all considerations of adherence to a definite religion or set of beliefs and who look on all religions with indifferent and benign compassion.
If a Catholic is to live his or her faith in the academic community in a healthy and robust way, and to be able to avoid the above-mentioned risks, then the person needs religious information, formation and conviction. It will be necessary for the person to be a constant reader of Holy Scripture, especially the Gospels, of major documents of the Church such as in our times the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council, papal documents and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Moreover, an academician needs deeper study in the areas of Catholic teaching which have special reference to that person’s profession as doctor, lawyer, business executive, etc. St Peter advises his fellow Christians: “Always have an answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have” (I Pet 3:15). There are people who attack or ridicule Catholic beliefs or Catholic moral teaching on honesty in public and private life and on chastity. How can a Catholic in an academic community meet the situation without adequate and growing knowledge? How can the Catholic faith remain that person’s lantern and guide in the difficult life decisions and choices in a world that challenges those beliefs?

The Christian life is a call, a vocation to follow Christ: “Come after me.. (Mk 1:17). “Follow me” (Jn 1:43). Everyone has a vocation and mission in the general mission of the Church which is to spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. “In the Church there is diversity of service but unity of purpose” (Vatican II: Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2). There are no spectators in the Church. Everyone — cleric, consecrated person or lay faithful — has a definite mission to carry out.
There is a temptation for some lay faithful to expect holiness from clerics and consecrated men and women rather than from among themselves. But the correct theology is that stated by Vatican II: “All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 40). The Church has therefore canonized saints from all three major states of life: clerics like St Augustine, St John Mary Vianney and St John Fisher; religious like St Theresa of Avila, St Benedict and St TherĂ©se of Lisieux; and lay faithful like Saints Thomas More, Charles Lwanga, Maria Goretti and Gianni Beretta Mola.
A Catholic in the academic community becomes holy by living a dynamic life inspired by our faith. That Catholic is to be the witness of Christ among colleagues in the arts and professions, in trade and commerce, in science and culture, in law and medicine, and indeed in the various arenas of private and public life where the person is called to be present. It was Cardinal John Henry Newman who said: “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission”. None of us should be afraid to stand up and be counted for Christ and his Gospel.
God will not fail to show us the path of life, the fullness of joy in his presence. If we allow our Catholic faith to be our light and our guide, we shall have full and lasting happiness in his presence, as the Church prays in the Collect of this Sunday. May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Queen of Apostles, obtain for the Catholic Chaplaincy to the London Universities, for all staff and students and for all of us here present, the graces of light, joy, courage and apostolic dynamism in our Catholic faith."

Monday, 20 November 2006

A Voice that will not be Silenced

Today, Pius Ncube, Archibshiop of Bulawayo, arrives to stay for a few days at Clergy House. He is surely one of the most remarkable religious leaders of our time, and an outstanding example of Chrisitan witness. As a fearless advocate of human rights in Zimbabwe, he has received many death threats, and endured vilification in the Press. Yet he refuses to be silenced, speaking out on behalf of the oppressed people of his country.

He is also one of the most humble people I have met: during his visit last year (pictured above in the Cathedral sacristy) he told me how he found all the ceremonial surrounding an Archbishop difficult, remembering that he first came to London as a student, living in a simple bed-sit.

It is extraordinary to be in his presence: in the hallowed atmosphere of Westminster Cathedral, it is hard to imagine this large, quiet man raising the standard of protest against the violence, terror and hated of a corrupt regime. Please pray for him - we cannot do much, but this we can do.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

On a Clear November Morning

A view of the Cathedral from the Clergy House terrace. This is one of my favourite views of the Cathedral (although spoiled by the office block behind) as to me it irresistibly suggests the cascade of domes and arches of Haghia Sophia, in Istanbul.

Of Baldock and Baghdad

On Christmas night, we celebrate the hundreth anniversary of the unveiling of the Baladacchino - the great marble canopy that stands above the High Altar. A Baldacchino was originally a tent of fabric covering an altar or throne: although medieval in origin, the notion must also hark back to the Tent that covered the Ark of the Covenant in Old Testament times.

In constructing our great Baldacchino, Francis Bentley was influenced by the basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan. The canopy is supported by eight columns of yellow marble from Verona, and the magnificent structure (Bentley thought it the best thing in the Cathedral) was formally unveiled at Midnight Mass 1906.

As I was pondering on ways to mark this event, I looked for the origin of the exotic term 'baldacchino', and found that it was the medieval Italian form of 'Baghdad' - the source of the silk that was employed in such canopies. As I triumphantly e-mailed this information to other members of staff, Fr Christopher e-mailed me back with an even more fascinating morsel, which I quote:
"Re your historical footnote. The Knights Templar wanted to establish a 'Baghdad' in England and named one of their properties in Hertfordshire after that city, hence we have 'Baldock'."

I wonder whether the town elders of Baldock have considered twinning ...

St Andrew's Chapel

As St Andrew's day draws near, it is fitting that we take possession of a painting of St Andrew's chapel by Robert Weir Schultz (1860 - 1951), the Byzantine scholar and architect, who was commissioned by the 4th Marquess of Bute to decorate the chapel dedicated to the saint.

The watercolour was spotted this summer in the Fine Arts Society, in Bond Street, having been part of the estate of Andrew Keith, a descendant of Schultz who died in 2005. I do think it a pity that these situations arise - I am certain Mr Keith would have wanted to bequesth it to the Cathedral. As it was, we were faced with raising £4,000 to buy it. I was in a quandry over spending this much money on a painting, even if it was highly desirable that the work come to us. In the end, I told the story in the weekly newsletter, and rapidly received donations from parishioners.

The watercolour measures 44.5cm by 78.8cm, and shows the marble and mosaic decoration of the east and west ends of the chapel, with a small depiction of the floor design. The mosaics were put up 1913 - 1915, and Venetian mosaicists were employed. The altar (shown left) is built of scottish granite, with relics of St Andrew in the wall above it.

The floor plan in the centre shows a 'river' of Connemare marble, flanked by sea creatures - a lovely reference to the fact that St Andrew was a fisherman, before his calling by the Lord.

The painting will be put on public display in the Vaughan Chantry (where it is secure).

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Music while you work

Just been across the Piazza to meet with the organizer of the John Lewis Partnership Christmas carol service, which will be held here on 19 December. It is remarkable that the company funds a full time Music director, who runs two choirs, an orchestra, chamber group and jazz band - all drawn from members fo the company. The Cavendish Singers, who perform at the annual carol service, set an extremely high standard of music.

While there, I was taken up to the twelfth floor of John Lewis' headquarters to see a superb view of the Cathedral; indeed, the only complete view I have seen of it unobstructed by other buildings. The sight is compelling; obviously so, as an artist was set up in the office painting the scene!

In Praise of Small Groups

Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of joining our new Theology discussion group. Twelve parishioners turned up for a fascinating discussion of Karl Rahner - who, it has to be said, doesn't reveal his secrets easily. I think we all found the dense language challenging, but Tony, our leader, guided us through brilliantly. He's a natural leader.
Last week I was with another group discussing the Holy Father's encyclical "God is Love". Again, it was a delight to be with a group of parishioners who talk passionately about their faith, and are keen to deepen their understanding of its treasures.
Cardinal Cormac places great emphasis on small groups; so much so that he has made them one of his pastoral priorities for the diocese. He speaks of each parish containing many such groups, becoming a 'community of communities', so to speak.
There is always a temptation to find excuses not to join such a group - most notably, lack of time. However, I certainly found it a compelling and refreshing experience and (as far as the Theology group is concerned) a welcome exercise for jaded mental faculties!

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Laying the Foundations

This online diary is an attempt to share some of the events that take place in the Cathedral, as well as revealing something of the life that goes on behind the scenes. Visitors to the Cathedral, whether during the quiet of a weekday afternoon, or in the splendour of a major liturgy, may not be aware of what goes in to running the place. Its dedicated band of chaplains, staff and volunteers ensure that it remains a remarkable oasis of prayer in the midst of the busy city. There are six Masses daily, and seven hours of confessions heard every day of the week. The Cathedral music is sublime, and our celebrated choir is one of the finest in the world; our proud claim is to be the only Catholic Cathedral in the world to celebrate a full sung Mass every day. But it is above all a spiritual building - there is soemthing about it that makes you want to say your prayers.

I hope all those who read this diary, whether familiar with the Cathedral or not, will discover something of the richness of this great House of God.