Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009: a brief review

On this last day of 2009 we take a look back at the Cathedral's 150th anniversary year, which has surely been one of the busiest of its history. Great events have been held to celebrate the anniversary, most notably the Flower Festival, three dramas based on the life of St Peter, a highly successful exhibition at Lancaster City Museum, a pilgrimage to Rome and a festival of music inspired by Dr Dixon, 100 years after his appointment at St Peter's. The celebrations reached their climax with the anniversary day, 4th October 2009, when several bishops joined a large congregation at both Mass and Vespers.

In diocesan terms, by far the most notable event of the year took place in the Cathedral on 1st May. Bishop Patrick retired after eight years overseeing the Diocese, and handed the crozier to Bishop Michael, who now takes us forward. The Cathedral blog has also covered the retirement of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and the appointment and installation of his successor, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, along with the installation of Archbishop Longley in Birmingham and the episcoal ordination of Bishop Seamus Cunningham in our neighbouring Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. That same diocese experienced a great sadness earlier in the year when its former bishop, Hugh Lindsay, died at his residence at Boarbank, in our own Diocese of Lancaster. For the Cathedral there have been changes too, as Fr Lourdu left us to take up a post in Wisconsin at the beginning of July. A new provost, Canon Dunstan Cooper, was appointed, and the Chapter also welcomed two new members: Canon Luiz Ruscillo and Canon John Watson.

Probably the event of the year that will stay in people's memories - and certainly the one which attracted most interest on the blog - was the visit of the relics of St Thérèse at the end of September. It was an extraordinary experience to welcome so many people to the Cathedral and to be part of such an important national event. The visit has left a permanent physical mark at the Cathedral, with the new cloister garden dedicated to St Thérèse which has been created during the course of the year. Other material works in 2009 included the completion of the organ restoration work after a two-year rebuild of our fine instrument.

Another permanent legacy of 2009 will be Billington's blog, which although now at its end will remain online as a permanent and fairly comprehensive survey of the Cathedral's history (click here to take a look). Much has been uncovered about the history of our parish and Cathedral during the course of the last twelve months, and some of the information and discovered images will be useful in the preparation of the reprinted and updated parish history due to be published in 2010. Across three blogs 598 posts have been published, all designed to make the life of the Cathedral accessible to a wider audience and to keep people informed. It's extraordinary who finds these sites, too: in 2009, for example, we have been linked to by an American website that deals with heraldry, who made an analysis of the Bishop's new coat of arms, and by a priest in Alaska who uses a plane to get between his mission statements. His website picked up on a post we ran about St Thérèse as the patron of aviators!

There have, of course, been events which we have been unable to cover: think of, for example, the Diocesan Education Mass in September or the Mass for Marriage and Family Life held in May. A signifant number of concerts and other events have all escaped the blog's cameras, but nonetheless form an important part of the life of the Cathedral, the parish and the Diocese. It is impossible to cover everything, such is the busy and varied life of a cathedral church. Alongside the events, it's been a record year for visitor numbers, and among the several hundred who have signed the visitor's book in 2009 are people from Australia, Norway, Mexico, USA, Poland, Oman, India, Slovakia, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Malta, Italy, Israel, Finland, West Indies, Canada, Belgium, Greece, Croatia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Malaysia, as well as many more UK and local visitors. At every level it's been quite a year, and hopefully one upon which many people will look back with fond memories. Now we must turn our attention to the future, and the challenges of 2010, but before we do we will see out the current year with sung Vespers and Benediction this evening at 6pm. The Te Deum will also be sung in thanksgiving for the blessings of 2009. All are welcome.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Lady Chapel at Christmas

During the Christmas season the Cathedral's Lady Chapel is emptied of chairs and takes on a slightly different character. A small Christmas tree stands in the chapel, and on it are hung prayers written by children from the Cathedral Primary School.

Near the altar a candle burns continuously for the twelve days of Christmas. It is one of many which burn in cathedrals and other important churches, given by the World Cancer Research Fund to encourage people to pray for sufferers and victims of the disease. May Our Lady, health of the sick, pray for all those who are ill at this time.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

St Thomas of Canterbury

In the Cathedral's Coulston Chantry is a window showing the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, and although until that point he had enjoyed excellent relations with the King, the relationship soon turned sour. The Archbishop defended the rights of the Church, and was put on trial by King Henry II; he then fled to France, appealed to the Pope for help and negotiated with the King from abroad. In 1170 he unexpectedly made peace with the King and returned to Canterbury, but four knights overheard the King speak ill of him and set out to Canterbury, thinking that they were acting in accordance with Henry's wishes. They murdered the Archbishop in his Cathedral on the afternoon of 29th December 1170. Thomas was canonised in February 1173, and Canterbury Cathedral quickly became his shrine, attracting a great many pilgrims from all over Europe. Among the many works inspired by the events depicted here is T. S. Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral', a performance of which was mounted by Cathedral parishioners here in Lancaster in November 2005.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Holy Innocents

The Christmas octave includes a number of feast days, many of which are depicted in the Cathedral's stained glass windows. Among the more unusual scenes is an image of King Herod, which symbolises today's feast: that of the Holy Innocents. St Matthew records how Herod, frightened of losing his power to the new-born King, ordered that all baby boys under two years of age should be put to death. The victims of this massacre are known at the Holy Innocents. In the window we see Herod with his foot resting on a child to symbolise his crime, while a serpent - a symbol of the temptor - speaks into his ear. A fox stands by his side, to remind us of Jesus' words when he described Herod's son (the King Herod we meet in Jesus' adult life) as 'that fox'. The window contrasts Herod's evil actions with the welcome which Jesus gave to little children, seen in the right-hand image.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

St Stephen, first martyr

Today is the feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose story is told in the Acts of the Apostles chapters six and seven. This is the image of him in the Cathedral's 'Te Deum' window. It shows stones, by which he was executed, and the palm, a symbol of his victory over death. He is depicted wearing a dalmatic, the vestment of the deacon, as he was among those first chosen to serve the Church in diaconal ministry.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Gloria in excelsis Deo

As Midnight Mass gets underway in the Cathedral, here are images of this year's crib. The figure of the baby Jesus was placed in the manger at the start of Vespers a few hours ago, and the crib was then blessed.

As with recent years, the crib has been set in the baptistery, which provides a wonderful archway at the front of the scene.

From everyone at Lancaster Cathedral, a very happy Christmas to all blog readers, wherever you are in the world. May this holy season be a time of grace for all of us.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A crib crisis!

You probably won't recognise this view. It's looking down from the upper floor of a storage room at the side of the Cathedral. On this level are stored the crib figures, safely hidden away for over eleven months of the year. Down below is a small lift, which is raised and lowered by a single cable, which you can see to the right of the picture.

And here's the motor which raises and lowers the lift. All this may seem like irrelevant detail, and not particularly seasonal, but it nearly had quite an impact on the Cathedral's Christmas plans. Yesterday the motor ceased working as it was being used to bring down the crib figures ready for the coming feast. With no immediate repair in sight, it presented us with something of a headache!

Here's the solution: the crib figures had to be lowered down in a large sack by two men, and caught by two others at ground level. It was not the least nerve-racking of techniques, but the job was done this afternoon and the crib figures can all put in an appearance this year!

Inside the Cathedral lots of preparations are taking place ready for the start of the Christmas season, which will begin with first Vespers of the feast, the Blessing of the Crib and the Office of Readings, sung in the Cathedral on Thursday at 4pm.

Meanwhile, outside it remains bitterly cold, though quite picturesque. The canal has frozen over, and a good covering of snow remains on the ground.

More scenes from the snow

Later today we hope to update you on what's going on inside the Cathedral... but the day starts outside, with a few more scenes from snowy Lancaster.

Even the side of the spire has a light dusting of snow...

... while at the front of the Cathedral the ground is covered with a couple of inches.

Looking out onto the car park, a similar scene...

... and even the Social Centre looks festive. It's unusual for snow to be on the ground for so long in Lancaster, and it will no doubt cause some disruption. Here at the Cathedral today's Mass and Vespers, and this evening's service of reconciliation, will go ahead exactly as planned. If you can get here, you will be most welcome!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

White Advent

While snow causes chaos in parts of the UK - and indeed overseas - Lancaster residents awoke to a covering of white this morning. It's more picturesque than disruptive here; roads remain open (though some are a little slippery!) and the Cathedral's timetable will continue as planned.

Some more snow is forecast for today and overnight, but it seems unlikely that it will cause the disruption seen elsewhere. Time will tell!

Nowhere escapes, of course, and our St Thérèse cloister garden has a light covering of snow for the first time since it opened in September. Thérèse loved the snow and was delighted when snow fell on her clothing day at Carmel. Just as she received the white veil of the novice, everything around her received a white covering too. It seemed to her that it was a little miracle, a sign of God's love for her.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Around the Ambo, four candles are now lit on the Cathedral's Advent wreath. Advent enters its final week, which will be marked by preparations - both spiritual and practical - for the great feast of Christmas. On Tuesday evening there will be a reconciliation service (with individual confession) at 7pm, and each day there will be sung Vespers. As always, blog readers will get a sneak look at behind-the-scenes preparations for the feast as the week progresses. These images were taken before Vespers this evening; if you're in the area, join us for Vespers on Sunday (4:40pm), Monday-Wednesday (5:30pm) and first Vespers of Christmas on Thursday at 4pm. All welcome!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The 'O' Antiphons

Today the second part of Advent - which focuses on preparation for the feast of Christmas - begins. Among the highlights of these days are the 'O' Antiphons, which are sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers. The Cathedral will have a public celebration of sung Vespers each day 17th-23rd December, at which the seven antiphons will be sung. IOn Weekdays and Saturdays there is Exposition at 5pm followed by Sung Vespers and Benediction at 5:30pm; on Sundays Exposition and the Rosary begin at 4pm and Vespers and Benediction begins at 4:40pm. All are welcome, of course. You can learn a little more about these antiphons in a blog post from last year - click here.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

December Deanery Conference

Six times a year priests and deacons from local parishes meet for the deanery conference, at which they discuss current issues in the life of the Church. Last month the Cathedral hosted the local conference; today's meeting takes place a short walk away, at Lancaster's Polish Church. The Polish Mission in Lancaster is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month, and also the 25th anniversary of its church building. Yesterday Billington's Blog carried a little more on this anniversary: click here to take a look.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Lancashire Sinfonietta

Back for the third year, the Lancashire Sinfonietta are currently playing in the Cathedral with a big crowd present. The concert features baroque music in a candlelit setting, and has always proved to be a crowd-puller.

Music from Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and Rebel is being performed under the direction of Lancashire's own Terence Charlston, who is also playing the harpsicord. Solo performers are flautist Sarah Whewell...

... and Mezzo-Soprano Claire Wilkinson. The Sinfonietta is Lancashire's own orchestra and it is wonderful that the Cathedral is able to host them for this concert each year.

The concert is the last non-liturgical event of 2009, and so completes an extraordinary 150th anniversary year of celebrations. More concerts next year of course, and the blog will keep you informed when the programme is announced.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Archbishop Bernard Longley

Yesterday, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley was installed as the ninth Archbishop of Birmingham. Here he is seen preparing to take possession of his Cathedral Church.

A great crowd of bishops turned out for the installation Mass. The eagle-eyed will spot our own Bishop on the far right of the picture.

For Archbishop Nichols it was a return to familiar territory, finding himself back - albeit briefly - at the church which had been his cathedral from 2000 to May of this year.

After the glories of the day, the real work must now begin. Here the new Archbishop is - perhaps - seeking a little divine inspiration for the unenviable task he faces. The images in this post are from the Bishops' Conference Flickr site; you can find more images of yesterday's installation by clicking here.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Installation of Archbishop Longley

This is the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, which today will host the installation of its ninth Archbishop, Most Reverend Bernard Longley. Our own Bishop is among the many members of the hierarchy who will be present at the installation today.

Born in Manchester in 1955, Bernard Longley was ordained priest for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton in 1981. As well as parish and chaplaincy work he taught theology at the seminary at Wonersh and worked as ecumenical officer for the Bishops' Conference; later he was made auxiliary bishop in the Westminster Diocese in 2003. Here he is seen in Birmingham Cathedral shortly after the announcement was made (photo credit J Lopuszynski). Among his considerable talents, the Archbishop has a fine singing voice and studied at the Royal Northern College of Music.

This is the cathedra of the Archbishop, the sign of his authority. The See has been vacant since May when Archbishop Nichols was installed at Westminster. The Diocese of covers a fairly large area, stretching as far as Oxford and covering the entire Birmingham/Wolverhampton conurbation. It is also likely to be particularly prominent in the next twelve months, as it will probably host the beatification ceremony for Cardinal Newman sometime in 2010; it also seems that the Pope will visit the Diocese when he comes to Britain next autumn. Elswhere on the national scene, as one seat is filled another one becomes vacant: on Friday it was announced that Pope Benedict has accepted the resignation of Most Reverend Kevin McDonald, Archbishop of Southwark, who retires early on health grounds.

Finally for this post, an image of Archbishop Longley last time he visited Lancaster, for Bishop Campbell's episcopal ordination. Here he is seen leaving the Cathedral after the Mass, strolling alongside his predecessor in Birmingham, Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

Monday, 7 December 2009

St Ambrose

Today is the feast of St Ambrose, the fourth century Bishop of Milan who baptised St Augustine of Hippo after his conversion. Ambrose was seemingly named Bishop by popular acclaim, and went on to govern the Diocese of Milan with great care. He is one of thirty-three sainst to be given the title 'Doctor of the Church' on account of his theological writings and his contribution to the Church's thought. This image of the saint is taken from the Cathedral's 'Te Deum' window; tradition holds that the Te Deum, a great hymn of praise, was composed by Ambrose and Augustine.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Cumbria Floods Collection

In Cockermouth the clean-up operation is underway, though it is likely to be many months before the church can be used again, and longer until some people can return home. Last weekend the Cathedral parish held a collection for those affected, and raised around £1200; a similar collection is being held around the Diocese this weekend, at the Bishop's request, and the Cathedral fund will remain open until Tuesday.

These images are from the Cockermouth parish webpages, hosted on the site of the parish of Our Lady of the Lakes and St Charles, Keswick, which has also suffered from some flood damage. You can find the Keswick pages here and the Cockermouth pages, including some more images and details of current arrangements for Mass, here.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Monthly Hospital Mass

From the top of the Cathedral tower you get a good view of the Royal Lancaster Infirmary; it can be seen here towards the top of the built-up area in the picture. The Infirmary is the largest institution served by the Cathedral's clergy; the priests here provide 24-hour emergency cover for Catholic patients and their families, while day-to-day cover is provided by Deacon Jim Murphy and a small team of visitors, including some Cathedral parishioners. Also, each month Mass is celebrated in the hospital chapel. The monthly Mass takes place this morning at 8am, and will be offered for the sick and for those who care for them. In days gone by, before the National Health Service, Cathedral parishioners and priests played a significant role in supporting the hospital; there was even an annual 'hospital Sunday', when the parish made a concerted effort to raise money to support the institution's work.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A new look for the Catholic Voice

The diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Voice of Lancaster, had a relaunch and the weekend and the result is most impressive. The monthly publication has a whole new look and has been expanded to twelve pages; it remains free of charge and is distributed in every parish of the Diocese at the end of each month.

The Cathedral has a regular monthly feature in the newspaper, so that people around the Diocese can keep an eye on what's going on here. The December edition features a look back at some of the highlights of our 150th anniversary year.

There's also a new website, which includes a page for VoiceXtra, a weekly email service giving details of forthcoming events around the Diocese. The new page includes information sent out on the service. If you're in the Diocese, be sure to pick up your copy of the paper from your local parish; and wherever you are, you can find the new website here.