Lancaster Cathedral, Lancaster, England

St Peter's Cathedral, Lancaster, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Thurible addict
Church: St Peter's Cathedral
Location: Lancaster, England
Date of visit: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 12:15pm

The building

This neo-Gothic cathedral was designed by Edward Graham Paley, the noted Lancaster architect responsible for many Victorian age neo-Gothic churches. The foundation stone was laid in 1857 and the church was consecrated in 1859. It was raised to cathedral status in 1924 when Pope Pius XI created the diocese of Lancaster. The cathedral was extensively restored in 1995. The tower, 240 feet tall, contains a peal of ten bells. Inside, one's eye is drawn to the east end by an unusually tall nave with barrel-like ribbing in the ceiling. The baptistery could easily be mistaken for a small chapter house. Side chapels abound, all featuring outstanding stained glass. The chapel of St Thomas More contains a reliquary holding a fragment of More's hair shirt.

The church

Located near the heart of Lancaster, the cathedral is the diocesan seat as well as a parish church. They hold a wide variety of weekday services and sponsor informal talks, prayer groups and cultural events. They also maintain a cathedral primary school for children aged 4 to 11.

The neighborhood

The cathedral itself is only five minutes from the town centre and stands very close to the town hall and the Lancaster Canal.

The cast

The Rev. Andrew Allman, one of the cathedral's clergy staff, concelebrated with a visiting priest from the diocese of Monze, Africa, whose name escapes me. Father Allman wore a traditional (Roman, not Gothic) green chasuble and stole over a white laced alb. The other priest wore an alb that was way too short for him and a stole that was barely visible.

What was the name of the service?

Mass with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

How full was the building?

Fairly empty. Approximately 20 at the start of mass, joined by a handful more as the mass progressed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not a soul. Like "a dry and weary desert-land" (Psalm 63:1), a vast emptinees encaptured all who dared venture into the building. There were only two other people in my pew.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a bog standard pew, though the kneeler was ripped to shreds and very uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very peaceful due to the lack of people present. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed in a monstrance, and people showed it due reverence as they arrived. A priest in cassock and alb who was leading the adoration sat in a front pew shuffling his books – why was he not seated in the choir, since he was vested for it? One rather annoying woman stood at the foot of the altar looking round to find a reader.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Er... in true Catholic weekday style, none.

What musical instruments were played?

None. As it was weekday mass the solemnity didn't exactly call for it.

Did anything distract you?

The woman at the foot of the altar was quite a distraction. And I wondered why these people – all 25 of them – who were inspired to attend a weekday mass with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament felt the need to sit close to the back!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Your run-of-the-mill 30-minute Catholic weekday mass – athough having a concelebrated mass was a nice change. There was no community feel, though, and everyone droned through the responses like zombies.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

Not quite 4 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – Rather than use the pulpit, Father Andrew preached from the front of the sanctuary. This gave a very open feel to his talk, almost as if he wanted people to ask him questions on the topic.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was basically about trusting in God and loving him, and realising that the way we live our lives is very important.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

That visiting priest spoke in a voice that was very soothing and calming!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The lack of people present and the fact that they all refused point blank to go anywhere near the sanctuary until communion. Which reminds me – communion was a bit hectic. It was offered under both species, and the visiting priest had no clue how to administer the chalice efficiently. Once people had received the host, they had to hang around until the people in front had received the precious blood.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Two people waved at me (no, I didn't recognise them) and then they walked off . Everyone else cleared out rather quickly as well, leaving me standing there wondering what to do!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I would describe it as perfectly absent. "After-service burger and beer?" I went into town and had myself some!

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – I prefer a traditional Roman liturgy with lots of incense, and a church that can attract a more substantial congregation even on a weekday!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes and no – it was a joy to be a part of the great feast of holy mass, but to be honest I missed the community feel.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The visiting priest's wonderfully mellifluous voice.

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