Wednesday 31 December 2008

The final words of 2008

The Pope stands on the balcony of St Peter's on Christmas Day, delivering his message 'Urbi et Orbi' (to the city and to the world). On this last day of 2008 the Blog looks briefly at the Christmas homilies and messages delivered by the Pope and our Bishop. In the Urbi et Orbi Pope Benedict spoke of Christ as the light that has appeared 'for all', praying that His light may be seen in the most troubled parts of the world. Earlier, at Midnight Mass, he reflected on Christ stooping down to earth, and creation, in response, acclaiming Him. The text of the Urbi et Orbi can be found here, and the Midnight Mass homily here. Earlier in the week the Pope made a speech to the Roman Curia, which was widely misreported in the media. Bishop Campbell has made a translation of his words, which can be read here by those who want the true story. Here in Lancaster Bishop O'Donoghue's homily at Midnight Mass reminded us that God is constantly willing to surprise us with manifestations of His love - and nowhere is the surprise greater than in the Christmas scene. His full homily can be read here.

Tomorrow the Blog will take a look at some of the many events we expect to take place in 2009 - the Cathedral's 150th anniversary. Thanks to all who have emailed good wishes for Christmas and throughout the year, and best wishes to all for a happy year ahead.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Finding Canon Billington

A while ago we reported that the 150th anniversary of the Cathedral will be marked with a 'historical blog' running throughout 2009. It's called 'Billington's Blog', after Canon Richard Billington, who was in charge of the parish 1893-1916. Canon Billington co-wrote the first published history of the parish, written for the golden jubilee in 1909 and published in 1910. The book will be reprinted, with a second volume bringing the history up to date, hopefully towards the end of next year. On Billington's Blog we will mark anniversaries of significant events; we will include old pictures extracts from documents from throughout the history of St Peter's; we will also show you where you can see the traces of that history in the Cathedral and around Lancaster today. Billington's Blog will launch on 1st January 2009, so there's not much to see yet - but you can visit (and maybe even bookmark) the site by clicking here. You can also access the blog by clicking on the link or on the picture of Canon Billington in the right-hand column of this blog.

Monday 29 December 2008

A winter scene

Taken from the Cathedral tower a little before 4pm today, these pictures show something of Lancaster on these cold, clear Christmas days. The sun is about to set on another day, and a pale red glow lights the afternoon sky.

No doubt in the city shops have been busy with bargain hunters. There has also been a steady flow of people calling in to the Cathedral, with many coming to look at the crib. During the Christmas octave we have extra music each day at the 12:15pm Mass, marking out these days as a time of special celebration of the Lord's birth. The Church encourages us to celebrate every day of the octave as though it were Christmas Day itself, so it seems good that they be kept with a little extra effort and a little extra joy.

Thursday 25 December 2008

The Birth of the Saviour

First Vespers of Christmas has been sung and Midnight Mass has been celebrated: Christmas has begun. On this feast and in this season we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the One who is both truly human and truly divine.

The crib is again placed in the baptistery, with Christmas trees close by. Many people will come and see this scene over the coming weeks; may they also take hope from the events the crib recalls.

The Cathedral looks quite magnificent, thanks to the efforts of many hours of volunteer help. This picture was taken an hour or so before Midnight Mass, with the Cathedral dressed for the feast. A happy Christmas to all Blog readers!

Tuesday 23 December 2008

A few practicalities

Yesterday's post revealed something of the spiritual preparations for Christmas; today we take a look at some of the practicalities of these final days of Advent. A great deal of work is going on behind the scenes to ensure that everything is ready. In the church itself, the aim is to keep the feel of Advent until the very last minute. There will be no flowers, no crib and no lights illuminated on the Christmas trees until after the lunchtime Mass on Wednesday. Then, in just three hours the whole Cathedral will be transformed, ready for the great feast of the Incarnation.

The crib figures have now found their way downstairs - with a little help from John and Eric - and will be kept out of sight until First Vespers of Christmas on Wednesday afternoon.

The flower ladies - Eileen, Trudy and Jane - have been busy preparing arrangements, though none will be put in place until the last minute.

Maurice, meanwhile, spent yesterday afternoon going up and down this ladder, putting lights on the Christmas trees. It turned out to be quite a task, but the result is worth seeing. You'll have to wait until Christmas, of course...

Monday 22 December 2008

A vision realised?

Four lit candles signify that we are now in the last days of Advent. These final days of the season are especially dedicated for us to make spiritual preparations for the feast of Christmas. It has been encouraging that so many people have taken the opportunity to go to confession in the last few days - as well as the reconciliation service last week and the regular times, there were an additional three hours of confessions heard in the Cathedral over the weekend.

An earlier post mentioned that Vespers is being sung daily, with the O antiphons, in the run-up to Christmas. Here too, there have been good signs. Yesterday, for example, there were around 40 people at Vespers, and even during the week the number of people attending has been encouraging. If you're free and in the area tonight or tomorrow evening, there will be Exposition at 5pm and Vespers and Benediction starting at 5:30pm.

The Second Vatican Council expressed a desire that Vespers be celebrated in public, so that people could participate: "Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts. The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 100). If this is the Church's wish for every parish, it must be especially true of cathedrals. Vespers is now familiar to many Cathedral parishioners and visitors, being celebrated on great feasts such as the Dedication of the Cathedral (above),

on the day of Bishop Campbell's ordination (when 300 attended),

on some major feasts and on every Sunday of the year. When this practice was first introduced a few years ago the congregation was often very small, sometimes numbered in single figures. Now each Sunday and even on weekdays there is a good attendance. Numbers, of course, can never be the only (or even the most important) benchmark, but it is heartening that people are responding to the Vatican Council's vision that this should be the prayer of the whole Church, and not just of priests and religious. If you'd like to come to Vespers, it is celebrated every Sunday at 4:40pm; alternatively, come along on Christmas Eve (at 4pm, with the Office of Readings), New Year's Eve (6pm) or New Year's Day (also at 6pm).

Sunday 21 December 2008

Mary, the Handmaid of the Lord

While the characters of the prophet Isaiah and St John the Baptist dominate the first half of Advent, in these latter days of the season it is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who comes to the fore. In the Gospel at Mass today we hear of the Annunciation: God announces through the angel Gabriel that He is to send His Son as our Saviour. Mary speaks not only for herself but for the whole human race when she accepts this gift, submitting to God's will and describing herself as 'the handmaid of the Lord'. The above image is taken from the reredos in the Cathedral Lady Chapel. The angel is seen on the left, Mary on the right. Above them the Holy Spirit is depicted in the form of a dove, as it was by the Spirit's power that Jesus was miraculously conceived.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Advent in the Eternal City

Later today the Cathedral will take delivery of its Christmas trees - a little earlier than we would really like, but this is the last day the delivery men are working! They will be placed in the Cathedral, but not lit until the celebration of Christmas begins. Meanwhile this picture shows the tree in St Peter's Square in the Vatican, which stands a record 33m (108ft) tall.

There has been plenty of rain in Rome of late, with the river Tiber running dangerously high. This picture, taken a few days ago, shows Castel Sant'Angelo and the Ponte Sant'Angelo, a short walk from the Vatican. A boat, unable to pass under the bridge due to the high water level, can be seen through the arches.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

The O Antiphons

From today the character of Advent changes, and the season is more focused on preparation for the great feast of the Lord's birth. In these days before Christmas the Church gives us seven beautiful antiphons, based on seven titles of Christ, which are sung at Vespers before and after the Magnificat. Each day in this period there will be Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at 5pm and sung Vespers and Benediction at 5:30pm (except Sunday: Exposition and Rosary at 4pm, Vespers and Benediction at 4:40pm).

The antiphons address the Lord using these seven titles:

17th December: Sapientia (Wisdom)
18th December: Adonai (Lord)
19th December: Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
20th December: Clavis David (Key of David)
21st December: Oriens (Rising Sun)
22nd December: Rex Gentium (King of the Nations)
23rd December: Emmanuel

The antiphons in Latin contain a hidden promise: starting with Emmanuel and working backwards, the initials of each title spell 'Ero Cras' - the Latin meaning 'Tomorrow I will be'. In these days of Advent we invoke the Lord in song and He responds by coming to meet us.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Tree Felling

Anyone who regularly passes by the Cathedral will have seen Eric and John hard at work in our grounds. Yesterday their duties included felling a tree outside the Cathedral entrance.

This is how it all looked before they got started. Unfortunately the smaller tree was too close to its neighbour and it was deemed necessary to chop it down.

Here Eric is at work with the saw; John is off camera, at the other end of a rope, making sure that it falls in the right direction!

Going... going... gone.

Visitors to the Cathedral will be able to see this tree in use in the Lady Chapel over the Christmas season, after which it will be sent to the city council's tree recycling scheme.

Monday 15 December 2008

A Marque of Excellence

Just before last Friday's concert the Cathedral was presented with a Marque of Excellence for welcome, awarded by the North West Multi-Faith Tourism Association. The Marque is awarded to places of worship "that reach a standard of excellence in welcoming visitors. These places of worship share their cultural heritage and collections with the community and visitors alike" (from the Asscoiation's website). The award is made in recognition of the fact that the Cathedral is open to visitors every day, and that displays interpreting the building are always present for visitors to see. It also recognises the work that has been done to encourage more people to visit the Cathedral. Pictured above (left to right) are Malcolm Stonestreet, Chair of the Association; Bishop Patrick, who received the award on behalf of the Cathedral; and Mike Wilkinson, Chief Executive of the Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Advent Carol Service

The Cathedral's Advent Carol Service took place this afternoon, with singing led by both the adult choir and our young choristers. In between hymns and choral music there were Scripture readings and reflections on the mysteries of this season. As with earlier carol services, the aim was to preserve the character of the Advent season, rather than simply leap ahead to the Christmas feast.

Central to the service was the figure of Mary, who becomes increasingly prominent in the Church's liturgy over the coming days. She is one of the great characters of Advent, preparing for the Lord's coming and teaching us to do the same. We are to imitate in our own lives her willingness to accept God's will, however surprising or difficult we find it. We, like Mary, must store up in our hearts the mysteries of our faith and treasure them (cf. Luke 2:19, 2:51). This small statue of Mary was placed in front of the altar throughout the service - a silent reminder of the role she plays in our salvation.

Gaudete Sunday

This third Sunday of Advent is known as 'Gaudete Sunday', from the Latin meaning 'rejoice'. We are told to be joyful because the Lord is close to us - John the Baptist's words in todays Gospel seem particularly apt: "There stands among you - unknown to you - the One who will come after me" (John 1:26-27). The day is marked with a change of colour: the third candle on the Advent wreath stands out, being pink rather than the slightly more sombre puple, and the priest may wear rose (rather than purple) vestments on this day.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Baroque by Candlelight

Last night the Lancashire Sinfonietta returned to the Cathedral to perform Baroque music in a candlelit setting. This is now the third year they have performed at the Cathedral, and their popularity here conitues to grow.

A great crowd came to hear them perform, braving the fairly miserable Lancaster weather to reach the Cathedral. At the start of the concert they witnessed the presentation of a Marque of Excellence for welcome, awarded to the Cathedral and received by the Bishop - more on that on the Blog this coming Monday.

People seem to enjoy the atmosphere created by candlelight, especially at this time of year. The concert was one of the most popular ever held at the Cathedral, with ticket prices kept down thanks to the support of Lancashire County Council, who sponsor the Sinfonietta.

Works performed included Vivaldi's 'Winter', Handel's Concerto Grosso in B flat and concerti for oboe and harpsicord by J. S. Bach. The concert was directed by Terence Charlston, previously organ scholar at Westminster Cathedral in the 1980s, where he knew Bishop Patrick, who was sub-administrator there at the time.

The concert marked the last non-liturgical event at the Cathedral this year. Fans will be pleased to hear that the Lancashire Sinfonietta will be back next year.

Thursday 11 December 2008

More praise from Rome

Earlier this week the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) wrote to Bishop Patrick to congratulate him on his recent document, Fit for Mission? Church. The CDF was headed by Cardinal Ratzinger prior to his election as Pope in April 2005. The current secretary of the congregation, Archbishop Luis Ladaria S.J., wrote in his letter to the Bishop, "Fit for Mission? Church courageously outlines the range of challenges facing this generation of the faithful in Europe... It is to be hoped that not only the faithful of your own diocese, but also Catholics throughout Britain, will find hope and encouragement in your document." In particular, the Bishop's insistence on a more widespread use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was singled out for praise. Copies of the Bishop's document have been made available to parishes in the Lancaster Diocese; the document has also been published by the CTS, whose website can be found here.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Lancaster Military Heritage Group Carol Service

Last night the Cathedral hosted the annual carol service of the Lancaster Military Heritage Group. The service is held one of Lancaster's major churches each year; this year the group asked the Cathedral to host and plan the event. In accordance with the liturgical year, the service largely retained the character of Advent, rather than pre-empting Christmas.

The congregation was made up of members of the Group, with a large number of cadets and members of the public also present. Leading the invited guests was Mayor of Lancaster, Councillor Keith Budden.

The service consisted of music interspresed with Scripture readings and poems, read by members of the Military Heritage Group.

The military standards were brought to the sanctuary and placed either side of the altar, where they remained until the end of the service. Last night's event was a reminder of the Cathedral's important role within the city of Lancaster, which it serves alongside the people of the Diocese and the people of this parish.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

In honour of Our Lady

This shrine in honour of Our Lady was a place of prayer last night, as people gathered for Mass and a short torchlight procession at St Thomas More's. The evening Mass and procession has now been held for a number of years on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. Last night's weather was not the finest, so rather than finishing at the Lourdes grotto in the gardens, the procession ended at this indoor shrine, where a decade of the Rosary was said. This celebration of the Immaculate Conception has grown in popularity over recent years, and will hopefully continue to do so.

Monday 8 December 2008

Dusting off the past

Over the weekend a little archaeology has been taking place in Cathedral House. There has been no digging (at least not in a literal sense) but there has been a fair amount of searching through old pictures and books to learn a little more about the history of the parish, ahead of next year's 150th anniversary. New discoveries will feed into two big projects - the exhibition at Lancaster City Museum (21st September-20th November 2009) and 'Billington's Blog', the historical blog featuring pictures and accounts of life at St Peter's over the years.

We could probably count on one hand the number of blog readers who could easily identify where this photo was taken. In an obscure part of Cathedral House lurk boxes of archived material. Most of it is of little or no use for next year, but there were a few old photographs which will come in handy. Most of them (as the top image of this post suggests) need a fair amount of dusting off before they will be of any use!

Elsewhere, on an untidy if less dusty desk, some of the material is being put together ready for next year. The image here shows a notice book; these were used to record the weekly announcements in the days before parish newsletters, and now prove to be a valuable source of information about bygone years. Keep an eye on the blog for more about this work and details of where you can find Billington's Blog, to be revealed later this month.

Sunday 7 December 2008

The Herald of the Lord

St John the Baptist, the herald of the Lord, is seen here with his mother Elizabeth in an image taken from the Cathedral's 'Te Deum' window. St John is the main character of the Gospel reading at Mass this Sunday and next. He is the voice crying in the wilderness: "Prepare a way for the Lord!" His message, once spoken in Israel, is meant also for the people of every place and time. In this season of Advent we try to hear his call and prepare for the presence of the Lord in our own lives.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Light from on high

Yesterday we had scaffolders and electicians at work in the Cathedral. The main purpose for their visit was the repair of the chandelier which has been out of action for a few weeks - the problem was featured in a recent post, click here.

In fact a number of the high-level lights in the Cathedral were in need of attention. Work such as this is planned so that a number of jobs can be done in one visit - this both saves money and reduces disruption to the Cathedral's day-to-day life. Hopefully yesterday's work will ensure that our lights continue to shine, without further maintenance, for some time to come.