Thursday, 22 February 2007

The Administrator has left the Building ...

I will be away on my long awaited Christmas break until 4 March, and so take a break from blogging.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Remember, Thou art dust ...

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.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Burning the Palms

Fr Christopher oversees the burning of last year's palm branches, in preparation for Ash Wednesday tomorrow. This is the first year we had asked people to bring in their palms from the previous Palm Sunday. We were overwhelmed with the response, and it is a more fitting way to acquire ash (in the past, we have sent away for ash that duly arrives in plastic packets from a Church supplier!).

Fr Christopher wisely opted to use the barbeque grill on the roof terrace - there will certainly be no shortage of ash this Ash Wednesday!

Jumelage avec Notre Dame

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.

The interior of the bell towers was fascinating; a double arcade strengthens the walls, while a wooden structure supports the great bell (le bourdon) - not touching the stone walls, to allow for vibration as the bell is tolled. The wooden beams you see below are medieval.

We were fortunate to be taken into the heart of the great building, to view areas usually unseen by the public.

Above all, it was fascinating to meet the chaplains of Notre Dame and to compare notes. In France, the state owns the building, and pays for its upkeep, but grants use of it to the Roman Catholic Church. Even the musicans are paid by the State. It is hard to imagine such a situation, continually weighed down as we are in England by the need to find our own funds for the Cathedral building and music. Yet, our self-sufficiency also grants us freedom; there is a certain amount of the 'dead hand of the State', that prevents the archiprêtre of the Cathedral from developing its resounrces as he would wish.

There were areas of common concern - security, disabled access, tourism. Interestingly, the staff at Notre Dame have begun to prepare for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, recognising that many visitors will pass through Paris.

We are seen below, together with some of the chaplains of Notre Dame, outside the house of the archiprêtre Mgr Patrick Jacquin, who is seen just to the right of the doorway below. Sadly, the noise of the city centre has driven the archiprêtre from the house, and he lives in quiter surroundings nearby. The meeting was a great success; our French colleagues complemented us on the intiative, and expressed a desire to visit London to hold a clergy conference at Westminster. Perhaps this marks the beginning of a jumelage between the two great Cathedrals!
As an afterthought, I much prefer the title archiprêtre to my own of 'Administrator'. Having resisted the moves to change the title to Dean, as being inappropriate, I could certainly be content to be an archpriest. Such is the title of the rectors of European Cathedrals, and there is even a history of the use of the title in the English post-reformation Church. However, I am uncertain how the title falls on English ears, and so will remain an Administrator, a title borne proudly by my predecessors for over 100 years.

Monday, 19 February 2007

The Rite of Election

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.

I am pround that the congregation yesterday included twenty candidates from the Cathedral parish. Like other candidates, they were present in the Cathedral with their sponsors.

A choir of diocesan volunteers provided the music (above). Below the Cardinal sits with the bishops, who are (from the far side) Bishop George Stack, Bishop Alan Hopes, and then Bishop Bernard Longley and Bishop John Arnold. On the north side of the sanctuary sit the Deans - the priests who have care of a particular group of parishes, and who call out the names of those parishes represented. The eagle-eyed among you will also spot the Cardinal's biretta, top right, occuping a stall next to the Cardinal's secretary.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Our Lady of Lourdes Mass

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.

The Cardinal celebrated the Mass with a packed Cathedral, while the statue of Our Lady was carried by some of the famed 'red caps' (in fact 'red jackets') who work with the sick in the hospital at Lourdes during the pilgrimage.

The annual Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes was founded by Cardinal Hume, and has remained popular. The Cathedral parish group will be led this year by Fr Christopher Tuckwell.

Mass was provided by a Diocesan choir, led by Canon Pat Browne, whose warm Irish tones are well known at Lourdes.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Dusting the Diapason - the Grand Organ Laid Bare

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.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman

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.

Finally, he is depicted on his death bed

Wiseman was an extraordinary man, and one of the key figures in the revival of Catholicism in this country. Born in Spain to Irish parents, he studied at the English College in Rome, becoming its Rector in 1828 at the astonishing age of 25. A fine linguist, he was given charge of the Vatican's arabic manuscripts (I recall his exotic collection of books still in the library at the English College, whch included his volumes of 'Hindoo'). In 1850, he became the first Archbishop of the newly erected Diocese of Westminster, and a Cardinal.
During his life, his preaching, writings and example did much to advance the Catholic cause in England, and he was widely respected as a churchman and a scholar. His Cardinal's hat still hangs above his tomb, although it is much the worse for wear (tradition dictates it must stay there until it falls to the ground, at which point the great Cardinal's soul may at last enter paradise!).

Thursday, 15 February 2007

I Know How He Feels

This charming image, with its encouraging facial expression, greets us as we return to sacristy after Mass...

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

St Cyril and St Methodius

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'.