Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Vespers at St Paul's Cathedral

Yesterday evening, the Clergy and Choir of Westminster Cathedral celebrated Solemn Vespers at St Paul's Cathedral to mark Christian Unity week.

I managed to grab a few shots before Solemn Vespers (to mark Chrisitan Unity Week) began. St Paul's is looking lovely, after a £4 million makeover, even if I still find the austerity of the only major baroque Cathedral in Britain somewhat dispiriting. However, the celebration of Solemn Vespers electrifies the building; many people (including Clergy of St Paul's) have said to me that Vespers works far better at St Paul's than Evensong does at Westminster, from a spatial and emotive point of view.

Simon Lloyd, our splendid Organ Scholar, took these pictures of me, as celebrant, incensing the altar of St Paul's Cathedral. I like especially the carving of cherubs by Grindling Gibbons, on the extreme right. The beautiful baldacchino, modelled on that of St Peter's in Rome, is only 50 years old. At the first celebration of Vespers in Christian Unity Week in 1993, I was also celebrant, at which time I was informed that I was only the fourth person in history to incense the altar of St Paul's Cathedral! It is most certainly a magnificent building, a testimony to Sr Christopher Wren's genius and his obsession with perfect mathematical relationships. It is good, however, to recall that the exterior dimensions of St Paul's dome would fit inside the interior of St Peter's, without touching it!

The choir was superb, and following the chanting of the psalms, and the falsibordone of the Canticle, their choice of motet (Gabrieli's Jubilate Deo) was a perfect choice, making excellent use of the magnificent acoustic. A solid and powerful Magnificat, set in the fourth mode by Palestrina, prepared the way.

The sermon was preached by Fr Christopher Tuckwell, sub-Administrator of the Cathedral. His words were realistic on our present situation, but full of hope for the future. He also recorded tactfully and movingly that he had been ordained an Anglican priest in this very Cathedral; and gave thanks for his Anglican heritage, as he did for his ordination six years ago into the Catholic priesthood.

A wonderful and memorable event - but I wonder if we haven't lost a little of that spark that guided and challenged us when we first began this exchange. We have grown used to this event, so much so that it is marked in our diaries well in advance. All the more then, we must never cease to hear those words of Our Lord (where he prays that we may all be one) and heed the imperative to work for unity.


Anonymous said...

Interesting posting. However, will the cause of Christian unity be enhanced by a certain smugness with regard to the relative sizes of the domes of St Peter's and St Paul's?

Anonymous said...

As if that were all we had to be smug about...! ;-)

Mark Langham said...

Mea Culpa. I hope you take the goodwill and fellowship that was consolidated by these events as real evidence of our commitment to Christian unity.

Andrew said...

Father, who is the clergywoman who was preaching from the ambo? Is she a canon of St. Paul's?

I guess looking at the photo left me with a feeling of real sadness, despite the beauty and magnificence of the Cathedral and the majesty of the liturgy.

This was because women priests are precisely the cause that put real corporate unity between the Catholic Church and the Anglican communion out of reach.

As Pope John Paul had declared in his encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the Catholic Church can never recognize the validity of Holy Orders conferred on women because the Church has no authority to do so. This teaching, which was recognized as part of the infallible ordinary magisterium by the CDF, has definitely put the union out of reach forever as the Anglican Communion can't 'unpriest' them and the new movement to ordain women bishops would also invalidate whatever apostolic succession injected by the Orthodox.

This is really sad indeed.

On a lighter note, its good to see the Anglican and Catholic clergy standing together as Christians. Kudos to you all.

Mark Langham said...

The woman preaching is Canon Lucy Winkett, Precentor of St Paul's Cathedral and the first woman to be appointed to the Chapter.

As you say, even the most optimistic visions of unity seem destined to frustration at the issue of the ordination of women. There is real sadenss here. However, it is all the more important to pray and work together to proclaim the gospel - England is in a bad way just nowm and a common witness from all the Christain traditions is essential.

Anonymous said...

It was good to see the Archbishops of Canterbury and York speaking out about the rights of catholic conscience.