Monday, 30 November 2009

The Feast of St Andrew

Today is the feast of St Andrew, brother of our own patron St Peter and patron of - among others - Scotland, Russia and Greece. The pictures here were taken on the recent parish trip to Rome, and show the church of San Andrea della Valle. It wasn't on the list of churches visited by the group, but seems worth sharing today all the same. Built in a Baroque style similar to St Peter's Basilica, and with Rome's second largest church dome after the Vatican, it seems a fitting 'brother' to the basilica dedicated to St Peter.

The large painting above the high altar shows the crucifixion of St Andrew, which according to tradition took place on an X-shaped cross. This, of course, is the origin of the shape of the Scottish flag.

Two large paintings to the left and right of it show him being lifted onto his cross...

... and him being taken down after his death. Aside from the tradition surrounding his death, much was written about his life and he is, of course, a prominent figure in the gospels. Although he is not mentioned frequently, he is important in that he is understood to be the first of the twelve apostles to follow the Lord, and even introduced his brother, Peter, to Jesus with the words, "We have found the Messiah" (John 1:41). In St John's account of the feeding of the 5000, it is St Andrew who brings the loaves and fish to Jesus (John 6:8-9). Visiting Scotland in 1982, Pope John Paul II made reference to this incident, saying that it teaches us to bring our gifts, however small, to the service of God, and allow Him to do the rest.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Season of Advent

With Vespers this evening the season of Advent - and the new liturgical year - begin. Advent is a time of sure and certain hope in the Lord's coming: in this season we are reminded that the Lord will return at the end of time, and that even now He comes into our lives each day. The task, therefore, is to prepare ourselves for this coming: this is the purpose of Advent.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Ursuline Sisters, towards 475

Today is the feast of St Catherine of Alexandria, the virgin martyr who famously was almost put to death on a wheel. When this method of execution (which gave us the term 'catherine wheel') failed, she was beheaded. The image above shows a statue of her on the reredos of the Cathedral's Sacred Heart altar. In the Middle Ages St Catherine was extremely popular, and it was on this feast in 1535 that St Angela Merici chose to found her company of religious women, which bears the name of another virgin martyr, St Ursula, who also enjoyed great popularity at the time. Angela founded her company in Brescia, Italy (more recently famous as the home town of Pope Paul VI) to enable women to live consecrated lives in their own homes and keeping their occupations. At a time when women were expected to choose between a husband or a cloistered life, it was a daring move! As the company required no dowry, it was open to women of all social backgrounds.

There are also two stained glass images of St Catherine in the Cathedral: this one (she is seen here on the left, holding the palm branch of martyrdom) in the Te Deum window, and one in the Whiteside Chantry (see here). With today's feast and the anniversary of the foundation of the Ursulines, the order now begins its 475th year, a milestone which is particularly important to our parish, as we are currently served by three Ursuline sisters. Congratulations to them and to all the members of the Ursuline family; we will feature more on the Ursulines' anniversary later in the year progresses.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Cenacolo Collection

Since six members of the Cenacolo community carried the relics of St Thérèse into the Cathedral in September, parishioners here have been contributing to a collection which has been held at the end of most Sunday Masses. This weekend two members of the community came to each Mass and spoke about their lives and the work of the community; it is an important part of the work of Cenacolo members to give testimonies about their experiences. Over the last few weeks Cathedral parishioners have given around £1645, which will now be handed over to Cenacolo. The community relies entirely on the giving of others; it receives no regular funding from any agency or from any central source.

Cumbria Floods: the Bishop's Message

This is St Joseph's Church, Cockermouth, seen here in happier times. Over the weekend there were no Masses at the church because of the recent flooding. On Saturday the Bishop issued a message to those affected by the floods, promising his prayers and saying that he is working to keep informed of the current situation in the affected areas. You can read the full message on the diocesan website - click here (pdf format). Next weekend at all Masses in the Cathedral parish there will be a collection for those affected by the floods in our Diocese, and the proceeds will be sent to the most severely affected areas.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Cumbrian Floods

As you will no doubt have seen in the news, much of the northern part of the Lancaster Diocese has been suffering from severe flooding, with Cockermouth and Workington the worst hit. All those affected by the floods were remembered in prayer at Mass in the Cathedral yesterday.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Parish Mass for the Dead

This evening our annual parish Mass for the Dead takes place at 7pm. Each year a Mass is celebrated in November for all parishioners who have died in the past twelve months, and for all whose funerals have taken place in the parish during that time. Family and friends of the deceased are invited, as are all parishioners. This is one of the final requiem Masses which will be celebrated in the Cathedral in this special month of prayer for the dead; there will also be a requiem in the extraordinary form on Sunday at 12:15pm.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

St Paul's Outside the Walls

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts Peter and Paul, two of the four major Basilicas of Rome. In Roman mythology the city is said to have been founded by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus; in history, Christian Rome was founded by Peter and Paul. With today's feast in mind we take a look back at one of the final stops on our recent pilgrimage to the eternal city, the Basilica of St Paul 'Outside the Walls'. A large statue of its patron stands outside the Basilica.

To see just how large it is, take a look at this image. A number of people are posing next to the statue. Now there is a sense of scale!

Our Cathedral pilrgims visited the church on the morning of Saturday 31st October, and once again were treated to a guided tour. Here Anthony points out the Basilica's holy door, which is opened only in jubilee years.

The Basilica played an important role in the recent Year of St Paul, which took place to mark the 2000th anniversary of this great Apostle. A plaque on one of the doors commemorates the year, which the Pope began and ended in the Basilica.

The original Basilica was built in the 4th century, but was destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century. Despite its relative modernity it follows the model of the earlier basilica, and is a most impressive space. In size it is second only to St Peter's.

The basilica is built over the tomb of St Paul, which is located immediately below the main altar. During the Year of St Paul further examinations of the tomb took place, and as a result archaeologists can now say with certainty that the remains of St Paul are indeed here. As with St Peter, the Christian community has preserved the burial site for almost twenty centuries and has marked the spot with a fine Basilica in honour of the saint. Here the group is seen looking down into the tomb.

Starting with St Peter, the Basilica has mosaics of the faces of all 265 popes. The image of the current Pontiff is always illuminated, and here is the mosaic of Pope Benedict.

It's hard to capture a sense of the sheer size of the building, but this image gives some impression: see the man walking close to the pillars on the left hand side of the picture, and then think that this is the 'side aisle' of the church!

After the tour the group had some free time to explore some smaller chapels and the grounds of the Basilica. Some chose to visit the cloister, which is seen here. The Basilica is home to a Benedictine community, and it the current Abbot is an Englishman, Abbot Edmund Power.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Papal Audience II

Having completed a tour of St Peter's Square in the Popemobile, the Holy Father is then driven to the platform in front of the Basilica, from which his catechesis is delivered.

After delivering his address in Italian, the Pope then greets people of other languages and delivers a summary of his words to each language group. Here a priest announces some of the groups which are present at the audience; the Pope remains seated, with two Swiss Guard standing on either side.

Although many of the Swiss Guard wear their ceremonial dress for occasions such as this, they are there primarily to protect the Pope and stand on constant guard while the Holy Father is out in public.

They, and other officials, keep a careful eye on the crowd. It must be a formidable challenge to allow so many people to gather so close to the Pope, while at the same time protecting him and ensuring the safety of the crowd.

Generally the Pope delivers a series of talks on a certain theme, and currently Pope Benedict is speaking about the great theologians of the Middle Ages. During the Audience that our group attended he spoke about Monastic and Scholastic Theology, noting that monastic thought was focused largely on reading and understanding the Word of God contained in the Scriptures, while Scholastic Theology had at its heart the relationship between faith and reason. The full text of the Audience can be read in English here; you can also see a short video in the post below.

In several languages groups are announced at the Audience, and our own Cathedral group topped the list of parishes listed in the English language section. When each group is announced they usually give a cheer (some also sing a short song!) so that the Pope can see where they are and signal his greeting. At the Audience the Cathedral was given its full title, "The Cathedral Church of St Peter, Prince of the Apostles, Lancaster" and the Pope duly waved in our direction. Some groups also bring flags to wave, such as the large group seen near the obelisk in this image.

Immediately after speaking the Holy Father leads the singing of the Our Father, after which he gives his blessing to those gathered and to their families. At the end of this time of prayer he then greets some of the special guests at the Audience: first the Cardinals - here we see Cardinal O'Brien meeting the Pope...

... and then any bishops who are present. After this he usually walks over to a special area where other guests are gathered: among them newly married couples, other people attending for a special reason, and - at our Audience - seminarians from the Pontifical Scots College in Rome.

When the greetings are over the Popemobile returns and the Pontiff is driven away, back to his residence. This is a last chance for those nearby to see him close up.

Many members of our group had cameras at the ready, hoping to get a good view of the Pope!

The Papal Audience: a short video

Alongside the second set of pictures of the Papal Audience which we post today, here is a short video of the Audience that our group attended, taken from the Vatican's Youtube Channel.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Papal Audience I

Today we begin a two-part look at the Papal Audience, which was one of the highlights of the parish pilgrimage to Rome. The group attended the weekly event on Wednesday 28th October, and all of the photos in these posts were taken at that event.

There's quite a sense of occasion at the Audience, and crowds begin to gather long before the Pope arrives. Our group were there about two hours before the Audience began, but the time seemed to go quickly, helped by the singing of some nearby groups. There was also much to see, as people watched St Peter's Square filling up with pilgrims, and various preparations being made. The event is televised each week on the international Catholic channel EWTN, and clips are often shown on other channels and on the internet. The Vatican's own television service provides the coverage and their cameras could easily be spotted.

There were plenty of other media people attending as well; towards the rear of this image you can see photographers in action. Security is necessarily a big consideration at these events: you can see a Vatican policeman and another security officer in this picture, and everyone who gets into the square has to pass through airport-style security checks.

It's never much of a surprise if you see a face you recognise at the Audience, and our cameras spotted Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, attending. Seminarians from the Scots College in Rome were also present, and were among those who were presented to the Pope after the Audience.

After two hours of waiting the group had their first glimpse of the Holy Father, as the Popemobile appeared at the side of the Basilica. The Pope was then driven around the square, giving as many people as possible the chance to see him close up. Aside from those who had tickets, a fairly large crowd also gathered along the railings at the edge of St Peter's Square, as can be seen towards the back of this picture.

All the cameras were out as the Pope was driven past. It is quite an amazing scene, but is even more impressive when you consider that this happens every week.

Everyone in our own group managed to get a good view of the Holy Father, even if some had to climb on a chair to see him!

A great crowd of people from all over the world were present. Near our own pilgrims there was a group from Bolivia to the right, and a Brazilian choir off to the left of them. A range of flags and colours could be seen. The Catholic - the universal - Church, gathered around her leader. Tomorrow we will cover what happens during and after the Audience itself.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Behind the scenes at the Vatican

Contrary to popular belief, Sunday is rarely the busiest day of the week for priests. It is, however, probably the busiest day in most sacristies, and with this in mind today the blog goes behind the scenes at the sacristy of St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Our Cathedral pilgrims celebrated Mass in a chapel of the Basilica's crypt on Friday 30th October, and these images were taken on that day.

Even the corridor leading to the sacristy is rather impressive. Among the items you can see here is a list of all the popes who are buried in the Basilica.

Each morning there are opportunites for individual priests and small groups to celebrate Mass at one of the many altars around the Basilica. As our group made their way to the crypt they witnessed a number of Masses taking place; you can see two priests saying Mass in this picture.

The sacristy at St Peter's is quite magnificent, and maintains a certain dignity even in the midst of the frantic activity which takes place there each day. This is the main working sacristy, though the Pope himself vests for Mass in another place. You can see the green chasubles and the albs hanging up, ready for use by visiting priests, while chalices and other sacred vessels can be seen at the sides of the picture.

Leaving the sacristy, this is the first thing each priest will see: an image of the death of Ananias and Sapphira, who died after being confronted about their dishonesty. The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how they witheld property from the common fund, for their own use. It is, perhaps, a reminder that in the midst of the splendour of this place, everything belongs to God and each of us must seek His will, not our own personal gain. You can read the full story at the beginning of chapter 5 of Acts. There's still more to come from the Rome pilrgimage, including highlights of the Papal Audience.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Basilica of the Holy Cross

This is the Emperor Constantine, who appears on the blog today to signal a return to coverage of the Rome pilgrimage. Constantine became the first Christian emperor when he converted in 312, and after this date the Roman Empire began to embrace the Christian faith. It's no surprise, therefore, to find his statue on the facade of a church, and this image is from the 'Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem', a church not far from the Lateran Basilica in Rome.

Our parish pilgrims visited the Basilica after their day at Subiaco, and are seen here being given a few insights before entering the church.

The basilica owes much to this lady, St Helena, the mother of Constantine. She travelled to the Holy Land to search for relics of the Passion of Our Lord and came back with the true cross and other items associated with the suffering and death of Jesus.

Inside the Basilica today, therefore, you can see reliquaries containing relics of the Passion: pieces of the cross, the nails, the crown of thorns. These objects have been the focus of devotion for many centuries, and are displayed to provide us with a phyisical link to the Lord Himself. Helena even brought back large amounts of earth from Jerusalem, so that the church containing the relics could be built on the ground upon which Jesus had walked.

Near the reliquaries there were places to light votive candles, and some members of the group took the opportunity. Canon Stephen also led some prayers in this small chapel. Relics of the cross have been sent to many parts of the world, and our neighbouring parish, St Joseph's in Skerton, has such a relic. There are also four relics at Westminster Cathedral, one of which is situated at the top of the tower; you can find an interesting piece on these relics written by Monsignor Mark Langham, former Administrator at Westminster who now lives and works in Rome, by clicking here.

A short distance away from the relics, still within the Basilica, is the tomb of a little girl who shared in the Lord's suffering when her life was cut short by illness. Antonietta Meo lived in the local parish in the 1930s and was less than seven years old when she died, but during this short life she wrote letters to Jesus which display a profound - if simple - faith. Her cause for canonisation is open and she has been declared a 'Servant of God'. Next to the tomb is a statue of someone else whose life was also short yet filled with insight: St Thérèse of Lisieux. You can find out more about Antonietta on the website set up to promote her cause: click here.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

St Thérèse: the DVD is now available

The wait is over! A couple of days ago we took delivery of the first batch of DVDs of the St Thérèse visit to Lancaster. Many people have already expressed an interest in the disk, and we are now beginning to send out the first copies. Here are a few highlights from the disk.

There's coverage of the arrival of the relics, both outside the Cathedral...

... and inside, where the footage includes much of the opening liturgy.

We tried to capture much of the experience of people visiting - even the arrival in Lancaster!

There is some moving coverage of the veneration of the relics, and great devotion to St Thérèse is evident in the film.

There are interviews with some of those who came to visit the relics, in which people speak about St Thérèse, their experience and what the event meant for them.

The film includes some coverage of one of the Masses. Overall, the DVD gives a great impression of the variety within the visit: the full Cathedral at Mass, the quietness of the church at 6am, and everything in between.

Words from the Bishop's homily are included in the DVD, and Fr Andrew speaks about St Thérèse's life and about the event from the Cathedral's point of view.

Finally, there's coverage of the departure of the relics, so that the whole story of the visit is told. Whether or not you have pre-ordered a copy, you are welcome to send in for the DVD now. The cost is £10 (plus £2 p&p if we are posting it to you) and cheques should be made payable to 'Cathedral 150 Fund'. When we receive payment we will then send the disk(s) to you; those who have already sent payment should receive theirs soon. Please send payment to: St Thérèse DVD, Cathedral House, Balmoral Road, Lancaster, LA1 3BT. If you need any more details, please contact us.