Sunday, 7 June 2009

Terribilis est locus iste!

hic domus Dei est, et porta caeli: et vocabitur aula Dei....

I escaped the parish today and went to mass in Liverpool at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. The cathedral has, I know, its critics and I would certainly agree that there is indeed something tragic in the disjuncture between the noble ponderous forms of Lutyens's crypt- as much as was completed- and the "60's shopping centre" surfaces that abut it but, once inside the vast upturned "funnel" encompassing nave and sanctuary I have always felt it a most worthy space. In spite of the nave surrounding the sanctuary and the easy visibility of the altar there is both an austere grandeur about the space and an impressiveness about the altar. A variety of features ameliorate the architecture's brutalist tendencies while the boldness of forms counters the tweeness that is frequently encountered in the post-conciliar era. And, oh, yes! The "Benedictine" arrangement of the high altar is ab initio!

And then there was the music! Gregorian chant had "pride of place" being used for the Introit, Communion Antiphon, CredoIII, and Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Missa de Angelis (Mass VIII). The choir sang the Gloria from the Messe Solenelle by Louis Vierne. Rather oddly, but nevertheless beautifully the choir sang Byrd's "O lux beata Trinitas" at what I call the Offertory but, as often as not these days,is called the Preparation of the Gifts. (Oddly, I say, because I think it is a hymn for Vespers.) The dialogue and Preface were sung (well) in English as was the Responsorial Psalm and we sang a couple of (safe) hymns.

As at Westminster there is a proper male choir, boys and men, and of a high standard. That such choirs have survived is little short of miracle, given the last forty years, and is something for which I am deeply grateful. After Mass we were treated to a Bach fugue on the organ. I remained to the end and was surprised at how quickly the cathedral had emptied reflecting upon how, when I was last at Sunday Mass in Clifton Cathedral, a small but sizeable group had remained to listen, applauding the organist at the end. I generally abhor the cult of personality and applause in church but I think an exception should be made for decent organists. In fact good organists shouldn't just be applauded. They should be canonised!
As for church guitarists.... The appropriate treatment is best carried out off church premises!


  1. Spent 3 years as a student in Liverpool..Paddy's wigwam! Remember it well!

  2. I'm with you except the applause. Why not show your appreciation of a good organist by buying him a pint: much more suitable and less of a bad precedent!

  3. "Paddy's"- perhaps to those on intimate terms with the current archbishop, his grace's to the rest of us!

    I wouldn't want to intoxicate the organist! But point taken. I was, perhaps, getting somewhat emotional. I couldn't understand why everyone else was so quick to leave.

  4. Regarding Clifton cathedral, my former parish, do the choir still occupy the priests' stalls next to the throne? Unlike at Liverpool, the altar at Clifton is not placed at the visual centre of the building, where sight lines natually converge. Instead, at the visual centre is a huge void, between the throne and altar, which is bathed in light from the roof. Depending on where one sat, one could look across this void and see the choir, in the priests' stalls, not unlike a concert hall arrangement.

    Do the cohort of eucharistic ministers still assemble in the "void" behind the altar to receive communion? Watching the eucharistic ministers receive communion, one might have thought that this moment was the climax of the mass.

    Incidentally, the term "Paddy's Wigwam" was coined in the 1960s, and refers to the Irish Catholics in Liverpool. Writing in 1967, cardinal Heenan noted that the "jokes about funnels and wigwams already sound a little tired." Not so long ago I heard someone outside the Philharmonic Hall, which is not far from the cathedral, describe it as "The church for Irish people."

  5. Thank you, Amfortas, for your comments. There are themes here to which I am certain I shall return. I have not been to Clifton as recently as would allow me to comment on the Extraordinary Ministers' reception of Communion.
    (I was aware of the sectarian origins of the wigwam appellation)
    There is, I think, an interesting "debate" occurring between the cathedrals of Liverpool and Clifton considered as attempts to embody liturgical renewal. Both have strengths, both have weaknesses. Had they not been so built neither would be apparent. In Liverpool, e,g, there is the wooden platform for the cathedra and celebrant's chair etc.. This has been inscribed, in gold letters, "Presbyterium", the necessity, I believe, resulting from the disorientation arising as a consequence of the circular plan!

  6. Clifton Cathedral... "Come friendly bombs..." Gloucester was "my" cathedral as a child and so I've been rather spoiled as a consequence.

    As for "The Met." -not to be confused with the N.Y. Opera- I like it... sort of. Do they still use the New English Hymnal? The best Catholic Hymnal the Catholic Church never had! I wish the publishers would produce a version for the Catholic Church (i.e., without the A.S.B./Common Worship stuff). That would sort out that whippersnapper, Kevin Mayhew.

  7. Ponte Sisto, I once saw the former Abbey church of Gloucester described as one of the six most beautiful buildings in the world- not too much of an exaggeration in my view.
    As to Music I think I am largely, but with some qualification, with you. The best hymn book the Church in E&W ever had was The Westminster Hymnal. The first edition of "Praise the Lord" wasn't bad but then things started to go downhill.
    I recall the NEH appearing at Liverpool and thought it a not altogether unwelcome product of the then fashionable ecumania. During the present pontificate they appear to have become more up front with chant with the choir singing introits and everyone joining in the simpler Ordinary settings of Credo and Sanctus.(My impression from admittedly infrequent attendance.)