Mystery Worshipper: Incense Addict
Church: Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King
Location: Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 5:15pm
The cathedral is the metropolitan seat of the archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Revd Patrick Kelly. The present building replaces three earlier cathedrals and was consecrated in 1967. It is a dramatic modern circular building known locally as "Paddy's Wigwam" due to its awe-inspiring tower as part of the circle. The tower itself houses one of the largest stained glass windows in the world. Outside the cathedral are magnificent steps leading to the main entrance and a small coffee shop/visitor centre.
The cathedral is open every day to tourists; no admission is charged but a donation is suggested. Several masses are celebrated each day, along with matins and vespers on most weekdays. They sponsor a cathedral orchestra and several choirs, one of which is comprised of men and boys educated at the cathedral's two choir schools, St Edward's College and Runnymede-St Edward's School.
Liverpool celebrated its 800th birthday in 2007, King John having signed the city's charter in August 1207. The city has been designated the European Capital of Culture for the year 2008. The Capital of Culture programme is sponsored by the European Union and gives cities a chance to showcase their cultural life and development. Liverpool is indelibly linked in the minds of many with the Beatles – indeed, the Guinness Book of Records lists Liverpool as the official capital of pop music.
The Revd Michael Williams.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
The mass took place in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, which has a capacity of about 50 people. However, only 20 or so were actually present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Given the size of the building and its prominence among the community of Liverpool and the archdiocese, it was surprising to note that no one welcomed myself and my fellow incense addict, and we were left to find the chapel ourselves.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a bog-standard Catholic pew, so it was reasonably comfortable for a worshipper who is used to being in church on a regular basis.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A nun puttered about setting up for mass. People entering seemed to want to outdo each other as to who could make the most noise. But everyone calmed down once they were settled in their seats. Doubtless they were in shock over the disgusting monstrosity that sat before them (something I'll come onto later).
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen." Imagine the above with a scouse accent and you've got a good idea.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
It was only weekday mass so there was really no need for books of any description.
What musical instruments were played?
Again this was a fairly low key mass so nothing much in the way of music.
Did anything distract you?
Now... and I'm sure this is everyone's favourite part of these reports. Where to begin? Ah yes, the monstrosity I mentioned earlier. Behind the altar lay the tabernacle, recessed in the rear wall and surmounted by a large abstract painted reredos in yellow with streaks of white. The tabernacle is richly ornamented in gilt metal glass and enamel. But yellow and gold? I can only assume that the designer must have drunk the complete stock of altar wine prior to being let loose with his tools. Aside from the bizarre surroundings, the priest decided that showing up late was entirely reasonable, and after arriving spent a good five minutes faffing with the various missals and microphones around the sanctuary. It was hard to believe that he actually made more noise than the people getting into their pews. The nun who had set the altar also served as lector, and she stumbled over some names and other words in the readings.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I sometimes think that celebrating mass is like filling in a crossword. It's simple, everyone knows how it's done, and there isn't very much that can go wrong!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – For some reason Fr Michael liked to pause every 30 seconds or so, whether it was appropriate or not.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
All I remember him saying is that St Paul says we should preach the gospel with love.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
All I can think of to say is that the vestments matched the altar and lectern frontals, I guess.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Pauses during the sermon, nuns stumbling over readings, priests being late, disgraceful decor. To be quite honest, it felt like I had been transported directly to the other place and asked to provide a report on the most dreadful mass possible!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A guard reminded us that the cathedral would be closing in five minutes! Nice friendly touch, don't you think?
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Non-existent – it was a bit of a case of the guard wanting his dinner so he decided that everyone else would suffer. Therefore, in the traditional Catholic style, my fellow incense addict and I retired to a nearby pub!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I shudder at the thought!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Well, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, after all, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and despite the dreadful nature of this one I think we should always all be glad to be Christians.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The pub afterward!