Friday, 22 May 2009

New Archbishop!

This morning Sydney-time saw the Installation Mass of the new Archbishop of Westminster and Primate of England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols. It took place in Westminster Cathedral in London, which I still maintain to be the most beautiful church I have yet set foot in.

I just finished watching the BBC's transmission of the Mass, which can be found here together with details about the Mass, and thought I should blog some thoughts and impressions. And give voice to the palpable joy, exultation and renewed spiritual zeal in my heart brought on by it too.

So some thoughts:

1. Nice liturgy. Good hymns. How refreshing it is to have boy soprano choirs put to the service of the Holy Sacrifice rather than a pale imitation!

2. The Archbishop kneeling to pray at the Western door. How difficult that would be to do. Its difficult enough to truly pray at the best of times. But to do it in a moment of immense personal importance when nervousness and adrenalin would be at their height, in public, with photographers and TV cameras capturing every nuanced facial expression, every tic- that would be insanely difficult. To actually pray in such circumstances would take a lot of spiritual discipline. I couldn't do it. I don't know if the Archbishop succeeded. For his sake, I hope he did.

3. Rowan Williams' words, which were nonetheless sincere and solid, brought home to me for some reason the fact that the time is rapidly approaching when the Catholic Church is going to be the main game in town, the public face of Christianity in England. Which is not to diminish in any way Rowan Williams' words. But if the Church of England continues to shoot itself in the foot, the exchange between Archbishop Nichols and Rowan Williams at this Mass may find a very different parallel when it comes time for the Archbishop's successor to be installed in a few years.

4. I was strangely gratified to see a whole row of rabbis in the congregation. However, I can't help but wonder how they reacted during the first reading as St Paul was listing off his Jewish credentials and then launched into his testimony of how Christ appeared to him.

5. The sermon- this was the bit that really grabbed me.
A three point sermon too. My grandfather would be pleased. And how apt were those three points. Here they are, as far as I could grab them.

(i) Faith in God does not narrow the mind but opens it.

(ii) Faith in God is necessarily public by its very nature. It cannot be private.

(iii) Faith in God is not opposed to reason but is its necessary complement.

All messages that our culture, and especially the culture in England, needs urgently to hear. The sermon was delivered to a mixed audience, and I think the Archbishop handled that fact very well. These of course were the main points. But other things were touched upon, some very topical and necessary indeed. These included, in no particular order, a very obvious allusion to the issues of abortion and euthanasia, a call for ecumenism and dialogue to go beyond mere slogans and words and drive at the heart and substance of respective belief systems and the need for the media to be honest rather than biased. Also, I particularly liked this phrase- "...reasoned principles [must not be] construed as prejudice".
This sermon, more than anything else I know or have heard, gives me profound hope that Archbishop Nichols knows clearly the situation and is prepared to fight.

6. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's quip about the Nunc Dimittis made me laugh out loud. I had to part ways with him, though, when he said "Deliver us from evil" did not refer to sin. An innacurate and unhelpful comment. Nonetheless, I wish him well and pray for him.

So there it is. Those are my first impressions. Watch the transmission yourself and see what you think. For my part, I have some guarded hope for the future of the Church in England. I think there is a storm coming- I don't know how soon. In the midst of everything else, I shall be watching Archbishop Nichols with great interest. And will pray for him with all my heart. Together with the whole company of heaven.

St Alban, pray for him.
St George, pray for him.
St Thomas Becket, pray for him.

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