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Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, England
Worshipper: Don Bosco.
Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, England.
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.
After Liverpool, the relics of St John Bosco will travel to
Birmingham, Cardiff, Westminster and Southwark.
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 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
The date & time:
7 January 2013, 5.15pm.
What was the name of
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
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
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
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
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?
...as 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 this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
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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