Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King
Location: Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Monday, 7 January 2013, 5:15pm

The building

This Mystery Worshipper will not dwell on the architectural merits or demerits of "Paddy's Wigwam", as it is known, except to say that the cathedral is loved by some and despised by others. Instead, let us briefly consider the life of St John Bosco, whose relics have been on world tour since 2009 and which arrived in the United Kingdom a short time ago. John Bosco, or Don Bosco, was a 19th century Italian priest who worked among children, the victims of industrialisation, who lived in hopeless poverty with little or nothing to eat. He established a school and drew up rules for the governance of its workers, which would become the rule of the Order of St Francis de Sales, better known as the Salesians. Don Bosco died in 1888 and was beatified in 1929. His earthly remains were exhumed and enclosed in a wax effigy, which in turn was placed in a glass coffin. It was that coffin that had been placed before the altar of the cathedral.

The church

After Liverpool, the relics of St John Bosco will travel to Birmingham, Cardiff, Westminster and Southwark.

The neighborhood

Liverpool is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of the Beatles. It won the European Capital of Culture award in 2008 and maintains a strong musical heritage. The cathedral is located near Liverpool's three universities. The Anglican cathedral is a stone's throw away, connected by Hope Street.

The cast

The Rt Revd Thomas Williams, Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, was principal celebrant. The Rt Revd Terence Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough, preached. They were assisted by a few dozen concelebrating priests.

What was the name of the service?

Mass to Celebrate the Visit of the Relics of St John Bosco

How full was the building?

The cathedral is a very large space, and the circular seating made it difficult to be accurate. I would guess about 200 people were present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A young man asked me if I would like a leaflet, with one appearing before I could answer. He also gave me a small card with a short prayer to the saint.

Was your pew comfortable?

Wooden pew with acceptable kneelers. Perfectly comfortable for an hour.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Apathetic! There seemed no particular sense of decorum or veneration from the wider congregation. However, just before mass began the cathedral fell silent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening, everybody!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Two booklets printed for the pilgrims, which contained all readings, responses, hymns, and songs for the two days that the saint would be in the cathedral.

What musical instruments were played?

After venerating the relic before mass, I was dismayed to see electric guitars and amps ready for the off. Thankfully, the cathedral's large organ accompanied their choir and congregation for the mass...that is, for most of it anyway. What happened later is quite another matter.

Did anything distract you?

The interior of the cathedral does not lend itself well to prayer – there is no focal point to which one's eyes are drawn. In addition, there were several drape-cum-flags dotted around the sanctuary, obscuring the view (probably a good thing).

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

A "sung" mass in which nearly everything was said, but with choir, torches, crucifer, and thurifer, yet no bells. A particularly poignant moment occurred at the second censing, when a young server, swinging a thurible almost as big as he was, censed the congregation whilst standing by the relic of a saint devoted to the young.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

6 – Bishop Drainey was neither the most inspiring nor uninspiring preacher I have heard. To his great credit, he could be perfectly heard despite the challenging acoustics of the building. I'm not sure, though, that all would agree with the bishop's assessment of modern day Catholic education and catechesis as a direct continuation of Don Bosco's principles.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Don Bosco's time was one of economic and political upheaval and violence. Yet he continued to preach the gospel to all, focusing especially on the most important element for the world – children. The saint continued with this, despite opposition from conservative quarters that even included a threat on his life! Catholic education and catechesis have continued in the same vein ever since. Don Bosco had an unfailing faith in God's providence and guidance. In God alone can we find true happiness and rest, as St John Bosco did.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir sang a Gregorian chant introit during the first censing of the altar. For those few moments, the mass seemed timeless. Alas, this ended too quickly...

And which part was like being in... er... the other place? the praise band struck up some hyper-enthusiastic saccharine modern ditty, no doubt supposed to appeal to the "youth" there. Being one of these "youth" types myself, I can confidently say this was very embarrassing. Three families walked out. I heard someone sigh, "You're joking!" People were cringing; almost no one joined in.

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

The reliquary was wheeled without decorum on what looked like a wheel-barrow out of the cathedral, to a half-hearted pathetic applause started by a lone priest in the procession. Poor St John Bosco. He deserves so much better than this. May he pray for us! I was so embarrassed, patronised and cross that I left immediately.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

My gin and tonic in a local public house was much needed.

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

1 – This is my second visit to the cathedral, and I still find it extremely difficult to pray in there.

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


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

The young server standing at the coffin of his patron whilst censing the congregation. A small gesture of continuity of the saint's wish, this Don Bosco thinks.

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