Saturday, 28 February 2009

On the Cathedra

For the first time, Bishop Campbell this afternoon used the cathedra - the Bishop's chair. Only the Diocesan Bishop and the local Metropolitan (in our case, the Archbishop of Liverpool) may use this chair, which is a symbol of the Bishop's authority to teach in his Diocese; visiting and assistant bishops are not entitled to use the cathedra. Bishop Campbell, however, is the Coadjutor Bishop, and so has ordinary authority within this Diocese. Over the coming years we will become well used to seeing him here.

The Bishop was at the Cathedral for the Rite of Election and Affirmation, a diocesan service for those who are seeking to be baptised or received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter. The Blog will feature a full report on this event during the next week.

St Peter - the windows speak

Last night in the Cathedral the first performance of a new drama took place. Called 'St Peter: the Windows Speak', the aim was to bring to life twelve images from the stained glass windows in the north aisle. The windows tell the story of Peter's journey from the time he met the Lord to the time of his martyrdom.

It was wonderful to see so many people involved: parishioners and local artists as well as some professional actors. The audience seemed to enjoy the performance very much. If you missed it, don't worry - there's a second (and final) chance to see the drama this evening at 8pm. Entry is free, but a retiring collection is taken to help us cover our costs. You'd be very welcome to come.

Station Masses in Rome

About now in Rome today's Station Mass is beginning at the church of San Agostino (Saint Augustine). Each day during Lent in Rome there is a 'Station Mass'. The practice is found in very early records of Church life; originally the Pope would always celebrate the Station Mass, so that the faithful from across Rome would gather around their Bishop. Nowadays the Holy Father still celebrates the first Station Mass of Lent, though other bishops usually celebrate on other days. Still, the Station Masses continue to draw people from across the city. Mass will be offered for our own Bishop Campbell (himself an Augustinian) this morning, at the church which is dedicated to the patron of his order.

Friday, 27 February 2009

St Peter Drama - and our supporters

It's part stained glass window and part live action - this evening a new drama entitled Peter's Progress: the Windows Speak is being performed in the Cathedral. It's the first event of many which will mark our 150th year. Come along if you are able - it's free to get in; a retiring collection will be taken to help us cover the costs. Also helping us pay for this year's celebrations are our 150th year sponsors. A range of companies and organisations, many of whom have worked with the Cathedral in recent times, are sponsoring this anniversary year. You can find a list of them here. The new drama is performed tonight and tomorrow night in the Cathedral at 8pm.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday

The flowers are gone, the Cathedral is somewhat starker and darker this morning. Lent has begun. For 40 days the Church unites herself to Christ who spent the same period fasting and praying in the desert. For Him, it was a time of preparation for His public ministry; for us it helps us prepare for the feast of Easter. Throughout Lent the lights around the apse of the Cathedral will not be used, so that when Easter comes and everything is decorated and well lit, the effect will be all the more dramatic.

The lights on the tabernacle and the crucifix will remain; the absence of other lights in this area also serves to highlight the Lord's presence and the symbol of His suffering. A purple stole has been hung over the crucifix and the tabernacle is now veiled in purple. Mass today will be at 12:15pm and 7:30pm, with an extraordinary form Low Mass at 6pm. Ashes will be distributed at all Masses.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

And finally, before Lent

Just before the rigours of the Lenten season begin, a slightly less austere image sent by our man in Rome. Last Sunday (22nd February) was also the feast of the Chair of St Peter. It was not kept in the general calendar because the Sunday took precedence, however it was celebrated in St Peter's, Rome, as we might expect. There is a great tradition of statues being dressed for their feast days; here is the famous statue of St Peter adorned with a red cope and papal tiara. All the finery will have to disappear for a while now, though - it's Ash Wednesday tomorrow.

The 'Under 10s' in Ars

The junior clergy of the Diocese normally meet up twice a year for discussion and a little social time. Any priest who has been ordained less than 10 years is welcome (therefore the group is often referred to simply as the 'under-10s'. It is certainly some years since they last went on retreat together, so the few days in Ars were a welcome initiative. Not all of the group were able to go, but six priests travelled, led by our two Bishops.

A flight from Manchester took the group as far as Lyon, from where they made the 30-mile journey to the remote village of Ars. The arrangements were made by Fr Philip Conner, well used to organising trips in his capacity as Director of the Diocesan Youth Service, and everything went very smoothly.

The group stayed in the Foyer Sacerdotal, a house for priests and seminarians just outside of the village. In 1986 Pope John Paul visited Ars and gave a retreat to 6000 priests, deacons and seminarians. Following his visit an international seminary was founded in 1988, and the Foyer was built in the mid-90s. Most of the seminarians live in small communities in the village, but they come to the foyer for some of their formation and meals, and much of their communal prayer takes place here.

From the Foyer it takes about five minutes to walk into Ars. The Basilica can clearly be seen from the upper floor of the house. The retreat time was divided between the village and the Foyer, which has rooms for meeting and a number of small chapels. Each day the group celebrated Mass together and came together for Morning and Evening Prayer. There was a holy hour and the Bishops gave a talk each day, after which there was some opportunity for discussion.

After the first night's rest the group headed into Ars where they watched a video about the life of St John Vianney.

After the video there was a tour of the places associated with the saint, led by a Belgian priest who trained in Ars and now works at the shrine.

The tour included a look around the presbytery where John Vianney lived; more pictures can be seen below, on Sunday's post. It is a fascinating thing to walk around the places where the saints lived, but any pilgrimage should arouse more than just curiosity. As people came to be inspired by the Curé 150 years ago, so he continues to inspire many people today. And a pilgrimage, of course, is not just for the benefit of those who travel; Mass was offered each day for the priests and people of the Diocese, who were frequently remembered in prayer throughout the retreat.

On Thursday morning Bishop Patrick celebrated Mass at the altar below the tomb of St John Vianney, with Bishop Michael and the priests concelebrating. They were given the honour of using a chalice which the saint himself used for Mass.

Please continue to pray for priests, and especially for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. There is more about vocations on the Diocesan Website - click here to take a look.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Church of the Curé

St John Vianney's body lies above an altar in a side chapel of the Basilica of Ars, which was built in the 1860s. He himself had long desired to build a larger church but it was not until after his death that work began. The architect was a convert of the saint.

The basilica dominates the small village, occupying a central location and standing on a hill. It is not a huge church; in fact, a larger 'underground' church was built in 1959, to mark the centenary of the saint's death. This is used for larger gatherings and can accommodate about 2500 pilgrims.

The original plan had been to demolish the church and build a new basilica occupying the whole site. Opposition from locals, including many priests, was great, and the Bishop decided to keep the original church and build the basilica alongside. Here we can see the old church, which goes as far as the brick tower, with the basilica behind.

This is the view inside as it is today. The camera is at the back of the old church; the arch at the far end would have been the entrance to the sanctuary, so it is possible to see how small the old church was. To the left is the pulpit from which the Curé delivered his sermons, and out of view to the sides are small side chapels which he had built during his 40 years here. Through the arch the new basilica can be seen.

Today the shrine continues much of the work of the saint. There is daily Exposition and confessions run more-or-less continually during the daytime. Mass is celebrated each day in the Basilica, and the side chapel altars of the old church are also used.

The Basilica is richly decorated and colourful, with a mosaic floor. It is very well maintained - something with which the Curé would no doubt be very pleased.

A few yards from the Basilica a separate chapel was built to hold a reliquary which contains the saint's heart. Although his body never leaves the shrine, his heart has travelled to various countries; amongst other places it has visited the United States, and fairly recently was taken to Rome, where the Pope spent some time in prayer before it.

Our Bishops and junior clergy were given a tour of the village ending in the chapel. Find out more about what they did in Ars in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Life of St John Vianney

Ars is a small village about 30 miles outside of Lyon, not very far from the French Alps. It was here in 1818 that a young priest, John Vianney, was sent by his Bishop. Seemingly he was told, "There is not much love of God in that parish; it is up to you to put some there." If it sounded like an impossible task, perhaps the priest took courage from what he had already achieved. He had overcome many obstables in order to be ordained, not least a great struggle in his studies and an inability to master Latin, which had resulted in him having to leave the seminary. Sheer determination and divine providence had helped him get this far.

By the end of his life he had made quite an impact, with up to 80,000 people visiting him in 1858, the year before his death. Today about 400,000 people, including 8,000 priests, visit Ars each year. Despite the great flow of pilgrims it remains a very small village, totally dominated by the Basilica built after John Vianney's death.

On the way to Ars Father Vianney was unsure of which direction to take and asked a shepherd boy for help. On receiving his answer, he thanked the shepherd and said, "You have shown me the way to Ars; now I will show you the way to heaven." A monument outside the village recalls the event. It also notes that the young shepherd died on 9th August 1859, just five days after the priest. Perhaps Father Vianney was more true to his word that he realised at the time.

On arrival in Ars the young priest discovered a village with little faith. Attendance at Mass was very poor, and people showed little interest in their religion. He set about changing this, leading by example. He encouraged people to Mass and confession, and persuaded them not to work on Sundays, but to observe the Sabbath. For a long time his work seemed fruitless and on a few occasions he decided to leave Ars, but on each occasion turned back.

Visitors to Ars can walk around his house, getting something of a flavour of his life. He lived in great poverty. He would cook some potatoes each weekend and eat them throughout the week. His house was very basic, but he was able to raise money to help the poor and founded an orphanage in the village. He was also very willing to spend money on the church, buying only the finest vestments and decorations for the house of God.

This was his bed. He chose to live a life of penance so that he might call people to repentance. In time his work bore fruit, and people began coming in ever greater numbers to hear him preach, and most of all to go to confession. He spent much time before the tabernacle in adoration of the presence of Christ, and tried to read a little each day to deepen his spiritual and theological formation.

This year it is 150 years since he died, and the anniversary is being marked in Ars throughout 2009. About 40 years after his death his body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. It now lies above the altar of a side chapel in the Basilica at Ars. His face is covered with a mask, but his hands are still visible. Canonised in 1925, St John Vianney - the 'Curé of Ars' - was declared patron of parish priests throughout the world in 1929, and his shrine has now become a great place of pilgrimage. Pope John Paul II came here as a pilgrim - first as a priest in 1949 and later as Pope in 1986. St John Vianney is the patron of the Lancaster Diocesan House of Formation at Cleator; the Vocations Service has a blog, which can be seen here. Tomorrow we look at the Basilica in Ars and the church at which the saint worked.

Friday, 20 February 2009

They're back

The Bishops and junior priests have arrived back on home soil after their short retreat in Ars. Find out all about the town of Ars, the life of St John Vianney and the retreat itself with a short series of posts beginning here on the Cathedral Blog on Sunday.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Angelus Bell

Three times a day - at 8am, 12noon and 6pm - the Angelus bell rings over this part of Lancaster. A few days ago one of our parishioners mentioned that he had been away on business in the Middle East. At the airport, a call to prayer was sounded and for a few minutes everything came to a standstill. He said that the experience had brought the Angelus bell to mind, knowing that many of those who hear the bell and know what it means will pause for prayer.

The Angelus itself is a prayer which calls to mind the events of the Annunciation. The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary; she consented to his message and conceived, so that the Word was made Flesh and lived among us. The Angelus recalls how the Incarnation of Christ was made known by the message of an angel. It was a declaration that demanded - and got - a response from Mary. Perhaps the Angelus bell is similar - it proclaims a message of salvation but also demands our response - to spend a moment in prayer. The Angelus is said publicly in the Cathedral every Saturday at midday.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Junior Clergy Retreat

Today our two Bishops and the 'junior clergy' (priests who have been ordained less than 10 years) begin a five-day retreat at Ars, France. This little village was for 40 years the parish of St John Vianney, a priest of extraordinary holiness who drew great crowds, particularly to confession. By the end of his life he would sometimes spend up to 18 hours per day in the confessional. The little statue of him pictured here is found upstairs in Cathedral House. He died in 1859 (the same year that the Cathedral was opened) and canonised in 1925 (the same year that Thérèse of Lisieux was declared a saint). Made patron saint of Parish Priests in 1929, he remains an example and an inspiration to priests engaged in pastoral ministry. Our own Fr Andrew is among the priests travelling to Ars today; after their return, we hope to post a few pictures.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Celebrating our Patronal Feast

On Wednesday evening Bishop Campbell was at the Cathedral for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. He led the recitation of the Rosary and then presided at Vespers, which ended with a torchlight procession. There was a good turnout of people and a number of priests sat in choir. Fr John Watson of St Mary's, Barrow, gave an inspiring sermon, drawing out some parallels between Lourdes and Old Testament manifestations of God and then speaking of some of the people whose lives have been changed by what happened at Lourdes. We hope that each year we can build what has already been achieved: it would be wonderful if we could one day get to a point where the Cathedral was full each year with people praying for the Diocese and honouring Our Lady of Lourdes.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bishop Campbell: the first year

It's a year to the day since it was announced that Fr Michael Campbell OSA was to be our coadjutor. The Cathedral Blog was among the first to release the news: the original post can be seen here. Since then he's had quite a year, moving into the Diocese in Holy Week, being ordained bishop on 31st March, leading the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes and making many parish visitations. He ordained some deacons in Rome in June, and has confirmed many young people around the Diocese. Bishop Campbell will formally take charge of the Diocese in a few weeks' time, becoming the sixth Bishop of Lancaster at a diocesan Mass on the early evening of 1st May. The occasion will also be our diocesan farewell to Bishop O'Donoghue. Entry to the Mass will be restricted due to high demand and limited space; details will be made available through parishes in the Diocese in the near future.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Our Lady of Lourdes

Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the principal patron of the Diocese of Lancaster. In 1858 Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette at the town of Lourdes in South West France. 151 years later her shrine attracts millions of visitors each year. Our Lady of Lourdes was chosen as our patroness when the Diocese was founded; our first Bishop, Thomas Wulstan Pearson, personally led a pilgrimage to Lourdes to entrust the Diocese to her intercession. Today the Cathedral will renew this act, asking Our Lady's prayers as we celebrate Mass at 12:15pm, Rosary at 7pm and Sung Vespers at 7:30pm. Everyone is welcome. A small shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes has been erected in the Lady Chapel (pictured above); this can be visited at any time today.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

City, Coast and Countryside

When Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor came to Bishop Campbell's ordination last March, he spoke in his homily about his days as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. He mentioned that he would occasionally call Bishop John Brewer, our former Bishop, and tell him what a beautiful diocese he had. Bishop Brewer would invariably reply, "You ain't seen nothing". No one can deny that Bishop Brewer had a point - the Diocese of Lancaster is exceptionally beautiful, with an impressive coastline and the Lake District among its attractions.

A very clear day today made it an ideal opportunity to get a few pictures of the landscape around Lancaster. Here the northern edge of the city is seen; beyond it, Morecambe Bay is visible, then on the horizon the southern fells of the Lake District can be seen, covered in snow.

Here is our neighbouring parish, St Joseph's in Skerton, with the hills dominating the horizon.

Lancaster and the area is advertised to tourists using the slogan 'city, coast and countryside.' From the top of the Cathedral tower it is easy to see why. As the readings at Mass this week have begun to take us through the book of Genesis we have heard the story of creation. "God saw that it was good", we are told. Whenever we admire creation, let us not forget where it came from, but offer fitting thanks and worship to the Creator.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Diocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage 2009

The old notice books which have been dug up for Billington's Blog reveal that in 1925, after the foundation of the Diocese under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes, a diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes took place led by our first Bishop, Thomas Wulstan Pearson. It became an annual event, often first advertised at this time of year so as to coincide with her feast. Organisers of this year's pilgrimage are encouraging pilgrims to book now - some information can be found on the Diocesan Website, here. For young people, there is information on the Youth Service site, here. The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes takes place this coming Wednesday. If you're free in the evening, please join us for the Rosary and Exposition at 7pm, and/or for Sung Vespers at 7:30pm, concluding with Benediction and a short torchlight procession.