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2359: Shrine Church of Saints Peter, Paul and Philomena, New Brighton, Wirral, England
Dome of Home, New Brighton (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: Shrine Church of Saints Peter, Paul and Philomena, New Brighton, Wirral, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic. In October 2011, administration of the church was assumed by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right whose mother house is in Italy. The Institute operates in more than 50 places in 12 countries and is dedicated, among other things, to the preservation of the traditional Latin liturgy. The church had been closed by the Diocese of Shrewsbury in 2008 as being too large and costly to maintain. The day chapel was reopened in 2011, an event duly reported on by your Mystery Worshipper.
The building: A dominant Catholic landmark standing high on the skyline overlooking Liverpool Bay. Vast. It is affectionately called the Dome of Home because the massive copper domed central tower is one of the first things seafarers see when they sail back to Liverpool. The painstakingly restored interior is a feast for the eyes in blue Tuscan marble, Art Deco gold, Carrara marble, tiled marble floor, and Art Nouveau carvings. The priests of the Institute have worked tirelessly since their arrival to clear acres of junk and rubbish and all manner of detritus that had been dumped in the church. They have polished and scrubbed, swept and tidied almost to the point of utter exhaustion.
The church: This church has always played a prominent part in the community. The Institute have said that the Shrine will be devoted to exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and will also serve as a centre for the Latin mass.
The neighbourhood: This is where Victorian villas rub shoulders with seaside terraced housing, pleasant parks and recreational spaces. Attractions include the Lighthouse and Fort Perch Rock (a defence battery from the time of the Napoleonic war), hotels, guest houses, the Floral Pavilion theatre and conference venue, a shopping centre, an amusements arcade and boating lake, cafés, restaurants and bars. There are good rail links to mainline stations.
The cast: Mass was celebrated in the presence of the Rt Revd Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, who preached and bestowed the pontifical blessing of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. He was attended by his chaplain. The Most Revd Msgr Gilles Wach, founder and Superior of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, was the celebrant. Assisting were the Revd Canon William Hudson, Pro Provincial of the Institute for England, and the Revd Canon Olivier Meney, Rector of the Shrine. Also in the altar party were a crucifer, two acolytes, a boat boy, and the master of ceremonies.
The date & time: Saturday, 24 March 2012, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
The Establishment of the Shrine Church of Saints Peter, Paul and Philomena, with Celebration of Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Rite.

How full was the building?
Bursting at the seams, over 1000 people!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were warmly welcomed by the new rector, Canon Meney, at the open west door. There were also various other meeters and greeters.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable pew, plenty of leg room; drop-down padded kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Electric! Anticipated buzz filled the building. A soprano soloist was tuning up in the organ gallery.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome! Welcome to the Shrine Church of New Brighton." As the procession entered, the bishop, wearing his gold mitre and carrting his crosier, and resplendent in white and gold cope with gold and silver emboidered orphreys, was led to the faldstool beneath a canopy of gold brocade and silver and gold fringing with matching side drapes.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Commemorative souvenir booklet of the opening of the Shrine, but no service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ played by one of the seminarians of the Institute. A choir sang from the gallery; they were joined by several Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ, Sovereign Priest, a French community of non-cloistered contemplative nuns on their first visit to England, who sang from a side chapel. The nuns wore long blue habits – blue is part of the community's colour scheme, and the pompoms on the clergy's birettas were also blue. Three seminarians answered the priest's versicles in perfect Gregorian chant. I didn't recognise the mass setting, but it was traditional Latin Gregorian chant.

Did anything distract you?
I was very interested to see the inside of this iconic building and to know how it had fared during its three and a half years of closure. It looked wonderful, magnificent in spite of needing much restoration. Damp patches were evident where rain has penetrated, and the plaster work is a bit dodgy in parts. The interior is a vast cavern and the lantern of the dome gives a spacious lightness to the whole building. One’s eye is drawn to the wonderful diverse marble used throughout; so much to distract and delight. The high altar is a masterpiece in itself.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Sombre, marvellous Latin liturgy executed with great pomp and ceremony. All of the chant was note-perfect at all times. Whenever the celebrant removed his biretta and handed it to the master of ceremonies, the MC kissed both the celebrant's hand and the biretta. All of the choreography was smooth and sure; everyone knew their moves and had obviously been practising.
There was plenty of to-ing and fro-ing in front of the altar and plenty of backwardsing and forwardsing and moving stuff to and fro on the altar. It was all executed with great precision and dignity. It was a joy to behold. Nobody bumped into anyone else! The soprano soloist who had been tuning up before mass sang Cesar Franck’s "Panis Angelicus" during the communion. We received communion kneeling at the altar rail; only the celebrant distributed communion, with an acolyte holding a paten under the chin of each communicant.

Dome of Home, Wirral (Interior)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Bishop Davies spoke with great warmth from the heart.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The setting up of the Shrine was a new venture of faith, a place of peace and prayer. It’s not the architecture that makes it sacred, but the love of Christ. Churches have become locked and closed, but this foundation is open to everyone. It is a home, with or without a dome! Without the Institute, this church could not be open today. Homecoming seafarers have seen this place as a beacon of hope, a safe haven. Do you see this as a new church or an old building? It is both: Catholics cannot separate the two. As we open the doors of this building, let us open our hearts and turn always to the example of Christ, who gave himself in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music, the flowers, the liturgy, the vestments, the lace cottas, incense, lady soloist – all of it bliss!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I am not very good in a crowd and I did feel hemmed in and a bit panicky at times.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Bishop Davies, standing on top of the sanctuary steps, imparted the pontifical blessing of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. He then paid a brief visit to the Lady altar, which was ablaze with candles and arrayed with yellow, white and lilac carnations, lilies and freesias. He paused momentarily in prayer before recessing slowly down the nave. The organ blew a loud fanfare before launching into Widor's "Toccata" (from his 5th Organ Symphony). There was a ripple of applause as the bishop blessed the people on the way.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We were all invited, on the programme and by the MC, to the Floral Pavilion for refreshments, social and friendship. The coffee was rather weak so I added extra myself. The food was sandwiches, cakes, hot and cold beverages. A bar was available if one so desired. There were stalls selling books and piety goods, vestments, lace mantillas, Latin Mass Society leaflets, etc.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This was a special occasion, but the pomp and splendour combined with the lovingly restored interior made for a memorable worship experience.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Without a doubt.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Panis Angelicus".

 
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