Yesterday evening it was my great privilege to be present at the mass in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Liverpool in the presence of the relics of St Therese celebrated by Archbishop Patrick Kelly with bishops and priests from as far afield as the dioceses of Shrewsbury and Wrexham. Upon arrival it looked as if we would not get in. The crowd in the narthex was almost solid. Word came that there was no more room and we were asked to move outside. With a great many others we did so but waited a couple of minutes. As the crowd thinned we saw the doors within opened and people start to move inside. At the stewards' invitation we followed spreading out around the "back" of the cathedral. Having turned right we kept going until we arrived in front of the St Joseph chapel where Archbishop Warlock is buried. (At my inquiry a very kind steward gave me his copy of the mass booklet- God bless him!) I heard afterwards that many hundreds did not get in and stood outside. We ourselves stood throughout but were granted a clear view.
Mass began with the plainsong Introit Rorate Caeli and the hymn Holy Light on Earth's horizon to "Blaenwern" and we sang the de Angelis Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei as well as Credo III. The choir sang French Motets at the Offertory and Communion and we sang See us, Lord, about thine altar to the tune "Drakes Broughton" by Elgar. (Musicians take note: that is the correct spelling!) The Archbishop's sermon had a strongly literary flavour being peppered with allusive references "the holiest in the height"- a Newman reference I got and a "kindly light" my son got but I missed- probably because I was puzzling over something he said earlier. Anyway, it sounded most impressive and I hope he publishes it because I got a bit lost two thirds through. Nevertheless, let it resound to his grace's everlasting credit: he sang the Eucharistic Prayer throughout!
At the end of Mass those who had already venerated the relics were asked not to linger on account of the needs of those waiting outside but for some time things were a bit confused. No one seemed to have considered how to deal with the large number of us still in the cathedral who had not yet had the opportunity. To be fair to all concerned, I don't think that either the hierarchy or clergy of England and Wales had expected the tremendous response that the visit has occasioned. Yesterday I listened to a brief talk on a website by one bishop who seemed completely bemused- as if (and this is just my own personal opinion) there was a faith "out there" in the country that he hardly recognised! I felt I wanted to say something like "Yes, your lordship, we, the little people, are still here.!"
Much of what I have described here seems to me to be part of the Pope Benedict Effect: a reminder that it is OK to be a Catholic in the Catholic Church- whether it is the Gregorian chant of the introit or the presence of St Therese's relics in our land, or the crowds of the faithful arriving unheralded. It is good, Lord, to be here!
And, as one who has visited Lisieux on many occasions and seen the Carmel, the Basilica and Les Buissonets, it seemed to me that I was specially favoured to be squeezed in at the last moment. St Therese pray for us!