Monday, 31 December 2007

The last word of 2007

The last Vespers of 2007 has been sung; the doors are now closed ready to be opened (perhaps slightly later than usual) tomorrow morning, the first day of a new year. There will be much to do in 2008 - the usual calendar of liturgy, events, social activities and work; a new co-adjutor bishop will be welcomed to the Diocese, and no doubt the Cathedral will have a role to play; there will be a great deal of work in preparation for the 150th anniversary in 2009, and the task of preaching the Gospel must continue at the heart of it all. Large banners of angels hang on the Sanctuary during the Christmas season, reminding us of our duty to speak God's word.
It seems appropriate to leave the last word of 2007 to a 9-year old pupil at the Cathedral Catholic Primary School. She wrote a letter explaining why Christmas is important. Canon Stephen and Fr Andrew both read the letter at Christmas, and we've been asked to publish it - so here it is...
Dear Friend, I am writing to explain why Christians celebrate Christmas. Firstly, Jesus is God's Son. He was born through the Incarnation. This means that God came to earth through Jesus, as a human. God really loved us. That's why He gave us Jesus. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son." That is out of the Bible and means that God really loves us and the world He created, so He gave Jesus (his only Son) to us.
Why did God send Jesus to earth? God sent Jesus to earth to show us: what God was like, how God wanted us to live, and to die for our sins, so they could be forgiven. What does Jesus show us about how God wants us to live? He showed us that God wants us to love everyone. Like in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The man helped the injured man and they were supposed to be enemies. Also, at the Last Supper, Jesus said: "Love each other, as I have loved you". He showed us that we should forgive, because, when He was on the cross, He said "Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing." When He said that, He was talking about the men who were killing Him.
Finally, what does Jesus show us about God? He shows us what God is like, through what He did. "Like father, like son". Jesus showed us that God forgives, loves everyone and welcomes everyone. So, we celebrate Christmas because it is when God gave us Jesus for us. That's how much He loves us.

Friday, 28 December 2007

The Lady Chapel at Christmas

Just around the corner from the Crib, the Lady Chapel has also undergone some changes for Christmas. It has its own Christmas tree, a votive candle stand and a book for people to write prayers in.

Children from the Cathedral Primary School have written prayers on star-shaped card, and these hang on the tree. This chapel is - for Christmas - dedicated as a place where people can bring their prayers to the new-born Saviour.

Spotlights light a panel on the altar reredos, showing Mary, Joseph and the shepherds worshipping the baby. It is the only permanent crib image in the Cathedral, so it seems very appropriate to highlight it at this time of year.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

The Nativity of the Lord

The feast is here at last - the crib is open; the figure of the baby Jesus was placed in the Crib at the start of Midnight Mass.

The arch at the entrance to the baptistery provides a wonderful setting for the crib, while the trees stand nearby, now aglow with lights.

The Cathedral was full for Midnight Mass, which was preceded by carols from 11:30pm. The Bishop spoke about his recent visit to Bethlehem, and of our duty to spread Christ's light in the world.

Two large banners with figures of angels hang on the pillars behind the sanctuary, while the trees can be seen to the left. This picture was taken about 15 minutes before Mass, during the carol singing. More pictures of the Cathedral at Christmas will be posted here later in the week.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Four candles lit: a sign that the season of preparation is almost over; the great feast of Our Lord's birth is at hand.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Small but complicated

There is no doubt that, as Cathedrals go, Lancaster is fairly small. The size can certainly have its advantages - not least that the Cathedral very much maintains a parish feel alongside its other roles and duties. Even though small, it is at times an incredibly complicated place. Today for example, the variety of work has been notable: the booklets for Midnight Mass have been printed, then folded and stapled by volunteers (above); lights have been put on the Christmas trees, and further work has been done on preparing the crib; this evening the choir have been practising for Midnight Mass, and (below) the flower ladies have been hard at work all day, readying arrangements to be put out on Monday.

All of this is on top of the events of the day: two Masses, sung Vespers and a full-school Christmas Prayer Service in the Cathedral this afternoon. Nearly all the work is done by volunteers - we are very lucky!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

The Trees and the Crib

A busy but productive day in the Cathedral: above, one of the Christmas trees arrives, ready for the lights switch-on on Monday. Also today much of the crib has been assembled. It won't be open until Monday afternoon, though a handful of volunteers and visitors got a sneak preview today. One of the younger members of our parish came to help... he seemed quite at home amidst the straw...

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Preparations: Spiritual and Practical

Each day this week there is Exposition (pictured above) from 5pm, and sung Vespers at 5:30pm. These times of prayer are an important part of our spiritual preparation for the feast of Christmas. The Cathedral is wonderfully atmospheric; its beauty is designed to help our prayer. To the left of the picture the three Advent candles can be seen burning.

Elsewhere, a crib figure en route to Bethlehem, and some Christmas tree stands ready for the big arrival - more on that story tomorrow!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Leaving for Bethlehem

A chilly start to the second part of Advent. Today the focus of the season shifts: we think not so much of Christ's second coming, but of preparing for the feast of His birth at Christmas. The spiritual preparations include daily sung Vespers with the ancient (and very beautiful) 'O antiphons' (in the Cathedral; Exposition and silent prayer at 5pm, sung Vespers at 5:30pm); meanwhile, preparations of a more practical nature are about to swing into action.

There are three figures hiding in this photo, all of them about to leave for Bethlehem...

...eight boxes of lights for three very large Christmas trees...

...and four bails of hay right inside the front door of Cathedral House. We're not opening a farm - but it will come in very handy in a week's time. Follow the progress here during the week.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Gaudete Sunday

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally called 'Gaudete Sunday', from the Latin meaning 'Rejoice'. The title alludes to today's entrance antiphon: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say: rejoice! The Lord is near" (Philippians 4:4-5). As the season of Advent continues, we are told to find joy in the knowledge that God is coming closer to us each day. This afternoon, as part of our Advent preparation, the Cathedral held a service of prayers, carols and readings. Much of the music and many of the prayers focussed on Mary, who prepared for Christ's coming when she said 'yes' to the Angel at the Annunciation.

During the service a statue of Our Lady and the child Jesus stood on the sanctuary, surrounded by candles. Mary is a great - if quiet - figure of Advent. She was the first to welcome the Lord to earth; she provides an example to each of us. The candles are important too, as the Lord's approach dispels the darkness of sin and death which had become part of our human existance. In the subdued light of the church they not only looked beautiful; they also stood out as signs of the hope which the Saviour brings us.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Candlelight Baroque

The Cathedral is packed tonight for the last in the current run of concerts. The Lancashire Sinfonietta - a professional orchestra based in the county - are performing under the title 'Candlelight Baroque'.

The large audience clearly enjoyed the performance, which included an appearance by soprano Elizabeth Weisberg. Works included Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Scarlatti's Christmas Cantata.

This time of year is perfect for a bit of extra candlelight - these candelabra look wonderful along the Cathedral's north windows.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Immaculate Conception

An image of the statue of Mary above the Lady Chapel altar, to mark the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The carvings on the reredos are very fine indeed. Last night the parish anticipated the feast with Mass and a torchlight procession at St Thomas More's church; today the feast will be celebrated in the Cathedral at the 12:15 Mass.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Rorate Caeli

Rain pours from one of the gargoyles on the Cathedral tower this morning. It's vaguely appropriate: one of the most significant Advent chants begins with the words 'Rorate caeli desuper' - 'Drop down, O heavens, from above'. This Advent, the heavens appear to be listening.

The house and Cathedral look absolutely drenched! The words of the Rorate Caeli remind us of God's messsage given through the prophet Isaiah, a key figure of Advent: "As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do" (Isaiah 55:10-11). The Word that comes forth - the Word we await in Advent - is Jesus Christ.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The Season of Advent

Vespers this evening marks the beginning of a new Church year, and the start of the season of Advent. This is a time of preparing for the coming of the Lord. At the end of this season we celebrate His past coming in the Incarnation, when He was born at Bethlehem; yet the early part of Advent is focussed much more on preparing for His coming in the present (through the Scriptures, the Sacraments and prayer) and in the future, when He returns at the end of time.

In the Cathedral an information panel at the entrance gives more details of the Advent season. There are other visible differences: there are no longer any flowers in the church, but there is greenery surrounding the Advent candles, which have been placed around the Ambo. Here God's Word is read out, proclaimed to the people; the candles also proclaim the Lord, who comes among us as a light dispelling the darkness. Later in Advent sung Vespers will be celebrated daily with the ancient 'O' Antiphons (17th-23rd December) and first Vespers of Christmas will be sung on 24th December.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Fishers of Men

Today the Church keeps the feast of St Andrew, one of those fisherman called by the Lord to become a 'fisher of men'. Andrew, with the other Apostles, followed the Lord during His life on earth and preached the Gospel after Pentecost. Today the Church continues to pray for new 'fishers of men', particularly for priests to minister to and guide God's people. Seven crosses, blessed by the Bishop in September, are being taken around the diocese to remind us of the need to pray for vocations to the priesthood. Today, appropriately, one of them came to the Cathedral.

The cross has been placed in the small chapel of St Charles Borromeo. A cardinal in Milan in the 16th century, St Charles was a leading figure in the Church during the troubles times of the Reformation. Working for authentic reform within the Church, he established seminaries for the training of priests and is now one of the patron saints of seminarians.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King

Today, the last Sunday of the Church's year, the feast of Christ the King is celebrated throughout the world. This wonderful image is from the centre of the Cathedral's 'Te Deum' window. Christ sits enthroned in majesty, with the orb in His left hand symbolising His kingship. He still carries the marks of His passion (the holes in His hands made by the nails) - a link with today's Gospel, in which He hangs on the cross alongside two thieves. Here His kingdom is acknowledged by one of the thieves, who requests of Him, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom". Today, the members of the universal Church make that prayer their own.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Still Curious?

Tonight the last talk of the current 'Curious About Scripture?' series took place. Over the last few weeks there's been a lot of background input, looking at the formation of the Canon of Scripture, the meaning of 'divine inspiration' and styles of literature in the Bible. Tonight Caroline Hull, who is Cathedral events co-ordinator and runs the office, gave a talk on the history and geography of the Old Testament. She has recently written an atlas of the Bible lands, which will be published soon. It is encouraging that a good number of people has attended each talk. There's a break for Christmas before we start looking at the content of the Old Testament on February 12th.

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Sound of Music

No concert this Friday, but music-making of a very different sort: the people rise to their feet for a parish sing-along night.

Fr Stephen worked the piano...

...the people worked their vocal chords and lungs...

...all fuelled by themed refreshments, such as tea, a drink with jam and bread...

...and schnitzel with noodles (are you spotting the theme?). A further sing-along night is planned, probably for early in the new year.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

To the Eternal City

Two years from now, we could be amongst those crowds - tonight we held the first information evening for those interested in the 2009 pilgrimage to Rome. The trip will form part of our 150th anniversary celebrations, and will be a great chance for us to explore sites associated with our patron, St Peter. All being well we'll also attend an audience with his successor, Pope Benedict. The saving up begins now!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

We will remember them

A sight not seen in the Cathedral for the best part of 40 years - until today. The liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council dramatically changed the form of Mass; now the Pope has relaxed restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine ('extraordinary' form), and today this form was celebrated in the Cathedral for the first time in decades.

As it is Remembrance Sunday, a Requiem Mass was celebrated. At the foot of the altar stood the catafalque, representing a coffin and so symbolising the numerous dead we remember on this day.

There are many similiarities between the two forms, particularly in their structure; yet the difference in feel is extraordinary. In the Tridentine form there is much more silence; the Mass is celebrated entirely in Latin (the sermon is given in English, but this is understood as being outside of the Mass, and so is bracketed with the sign of the cross); except when directly addressing the people, the priest faces east with them, as a sign of him leading the people towards the rising sun, a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. At a Requiem Mass, incense (pictured above) is not used until the offertory.

It was heartening to see a large number of people attend the Mass - about 140 in total. Many of them were too young to remember the days when this form of the Mass was always celebrated, and yet came to experience this ancient way of celebrating the Roman Rite. Amongst those who came was Fr Michael Docherty, assistant priest at the Cathedral until about 18 months ago; it was a pleasure to welcome him back.

At the end of Mass there were prayers of absolution said at the catafalque, just as these prayers would be used next to the coffin at a funeral Mass. The Cathedral also prayed for the war dead at the main 10:30am Mass and at Vespers this afternoon. The local Latin Mass Society have requested that further Masses in the extraordinary form be celebrated here; a low Mass will be said on Christmas Day at 12:15pm. The Canon did forget to remove his maniple before the prayers of absolution - but then, he doesn't get much practice at celebrating this Mass!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Then and Now

Several decades ago, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the door leading out of the Cathedral's north transept onto the primary school playground was bricked up. Over the last few months it has been re-opened. It unquestionably looks a lot better than it did, but the benefits of this work have been more practical than aesthetic. Links between the Cathedral parish and school are very strong, and the children often visit the Cathedral for Mass and educational work. Now they can get in without having to go off the premises or cross ground used by cars, so clearly their journey is easier and safer.

From inside, the open door reveals a clear view up to the Cathedral cemetery gates (under the archway in the distance), allowing easier access when a cemetery visit follows immediately after Mass (for example, the recent procession after the Chapter Mass). From outside there is a view right to the back of the Cathedral: on the photo below, the bottom left corner is the 'Te Deum' window is visible.