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||1458: Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool,
Mystery Worshipper: Strange Pilgrim.
The church: Metropolitan
Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, England.
The building: Nicknamed "Paddy's Wigwam" for its shape
and Irish connections, the cathedral has been a prominent Liverpool landmark
since 1966. Designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, who also designed Harlow
New Town and the terminal buildings at Heathrow Airport, the cathedral replaces
three earlier efforts that were never finished. The second of those, designed
by Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose other works include the central administrative
area of New Delhi, India, and that curiosity piece known as Queen Mary's
Dolls' House, would have rivalled St Peter's Basilica in size and splendour
if finished. The present cathedral sits atop the crypt of Lutyens' building.
A triumphal flight of steps flanked by banners leads up to the main entrance,
which Pevsner described as almost Aztec; this opens into the circular nave
which is lit by a lantern in the shape of the crown of thorns, incorporating
vibrantly coloured stained glass. The high altar, of white marble, is immediately
beneath this; around the perimeter, and projecting outwards, are various
chapels, including that of the blessed sacrament, where the mass was held
that is the subject of this report.
The church: As the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool, this is the
mother church for the Northern Province of the Catholic Church in England,
comprising seven dioceses in all. Liverpool has a large Catholic population,
and the cathedral congregation reflects this diversity quite well, with
perhaps a middle-class and student bias owing to its location. There is
a significant proportion of people from overseas, both immigrants and visitors.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral stands at one end of the aptly named
Hope Street, facing its sister Anglican cathedral. The campus of the University
of Liverpool adjoins the cathedral, and several other institutions of higher
and further education are in the vicinity. Hope Street and its neighbours
are full of restaurants, clubs and pubs, the Philharmonic Hall and two theatres.
However, some of the poorest inner-city housing estates were on the doorstep
until very recently (mostly now turned over to student housing).
The cast: His Eminence Javier Cardinal Lozano Barragán, president
of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers,
was the principal celebrant. Concelebrating with His Eminence were the Rt
Revd Thomas Anthony Williams, Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool; the Rt Revd
Vincent Malone, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Liverpool; and the Revd Canon
Anthony O'Brien, dean of the cathedral.
The date & time: Friday, 29 June 2007, 5.15pm.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.
How full was the building?
The mass was held in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which was comfortably
full – I would estimate about 80 people plus the choir, who sat in their
stalls immediately behind us.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but there were stewards handing out leaflets who seemed polite and businesslike.
I sneaked up and helped myself to a copy while one of them was occupied
helping someone else. During the peace ceremony there were warm smiles and
genuine handshakes from those around me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – simple but solid wooden bench with exactly the right space to use
the kneeler in front.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet and prayerful. Three-quarters of the congregation were in place five
minutes before the start, and the few latecomers caused no disturbance.
The only distraction (a minor and necessary one) was a server making last-minute
preparations in the sanctuary.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
We then sang a hymn for which no announcement was made.
What books did the congregation use during the
An A5 leaflet including the words of the hymn (there was only one), and
music for the psalm, alleluia verse, sanctus etc. There was also an A4 sheet
with the text of the readings from the Jerusalem Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ – very gently and sensitively. The cathedral is blessed with three
pipe organs: one in the nave, one in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and one
in the crypt. The responsorial psalm was accompanied from a different console;
I don't know whether this linked to the chapel organ or if it was a standalone
Did anything distract you?
The over-short alb of one of the concelebrants, revealing six inches of
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Formal in the sense of not chatty, but a relaxed ceremonial done with dignity
and without fuss. All of the concelebrants wore matching scarlet chasubles,
but no mitres. They were assisted by two servers. There was no incense.
The choir, as ever at the Metropolitan Cathedral, sang beautifully –
parts of a setting by Tomás Lúis de Victoria, and leading the congregation
in Gregorian chant for the sanctus etc. They looked very Anglican –
long surplices, academic hood for the choirmaster and ruffs for the boys.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Cardinal Barragán, who is Mexican, explained that he was
visiting the UK to attend a conference on hospital chaplaincy and apologised
for his broken English. He was rather difficult to hear at first, perhaps
because he was nervously avoiding the microphone, but he relaxed into it
and became easier to follow. But his accent was so strong that I lost the
thread of some sentences altogether.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He spoke of the gift of unity, and compared it to the trinity.
Uniformity would be the denial of unity because it contradicts this
model. He spoke of the need for reconciliation and forgiveness
and how St Peter epitomised this, and hence his successor the
Which part of the service was like being in
The music, especially the Gregorian chant in which the congregation was
invited to join. I remember singing the same sanctus many years ago, although
to English (BCP) words rather than Latin. The sunlight filtering through
the stained glass onto the joyful abstract painting which serves as the
reredos (see picture). The Mexican celebrant and the presence of other ethnicities
and nationalities in the congregation wonderfully embodied the universality
of the Catholic Church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The contrast between the words, in sermon and prayers, about the unity of
the Church and the reality that I, as a baptised Anglican Christian, was
denied communion. (I am not criticising the official teaching, just pointing
out its consequences.) Despite the provision of two service sheets, neither
of them included the words for the confession or Nicene creed. If I were
a totally clueless stranger I would have been completely lost.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were gowned stewards rushing about busily tidying up, and other members
of the congregation drifting off in ones and twos, but no one so much as
offered eye contact. Most cathedrals, especially Catholic ones, are not
as "clubby" as the average Anglican parish church, so I was neither
surprised nor upset by this. We tried to leave, but the main door was locked!
Finally I fell into company with a gentleman who appeared to be Polish,
judging from his accent and an uncanny resemblance to the late Pope John
Paul II, and together we managed to find an unlocked door.
How would you describe the after-service
There was none, and the cathedral's coffee shop had closed for the day.
However, it is unfair to expect refreshments on a weekday evening, and I
understand that the congregation are invited to coffee on Sunday mornings.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 This cathedral epitomises the best of modern Roman Catholic liturgy
and spirituality, and as a catholic Anglican I feel very much at home here.
But I could not worship regularly without receiving the blessed sacrament,
so visits must remain an occasional treat.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Very much so. I felt the unity in diversity of the Church very strongly,
despite the sadness of being excluded at the moment of communion.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The serenity of the chapel, with the sunlight on the reredos. And the elderly
cardinal's valiant attempt to preach and say the mass in a foreign language.
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