Westminster doesn’t have an Archbishop at the moment. In the Canon of the Mass, where the priest prays for “Benedict, our Pope”, he doesn’t follow it with the name of our Archbishop, but simply says ”and all the bishops…” The new Archbishop has been named, but will not take office until a couple of weeks after Easter. Until then, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who had to retire after nine years of service because he has reached the age of 75, remains as Apostolic Administrator.
The Chrism Mass at Westminster Cathedral this Holy Week thus had a special quality about it. Cardinal Cormac was addressing this great gathering of all the priests of the diocese for the last time. He thanked the priests for their work
and service, thanked God for the blessings given during these past nine years, offered an apology for any times when, as Archbishop, he had let people down or failed them. The Chrism Mass is always very beautiful, with the blessings over
the sacred oils which will be used during the year ahead to anoint the sick and the newly-baptised and those being confirmed. The crowds were huge. The choir sang, as always, magnificently. As the great procession of priests in white
flowed out down the main aisle and out of the Cathedral, Cardinal Cormac, preceded by his auxiliary Bishops, was at the end, blessing the congregation as he went.
At the end of April, a new chapter will begin. Arriving in London will be Archbishop Vincent Nichols, from Birmingham. He is no stranger, having served as an auxiliary in the diocese some years ago. He is a familiar face on TV, and it was his voice that brought many people in Britain the drama of the funeral of Pope John Paul and the inaugural Mass of Pope Benedict, as he was the commentator for a major network.
Some of the press are calling him a “conservative” and “hard-line” because he has defended the Church’s teaching on male/female marriage and supported the Church’s right to run its own schools and receive some public funding for them.
He will face many pressures as Archbishop of Westminster. After a possible initial “honeymoon” period, he will probably come under attack from many corners – as has the Pope – if he warmly supports and defends the Christian teaching on
basic human issues.
It is a pity that the media makes it difficult to present the glorious truths of the Christian Faith in Britain today: a warm, well-presented and uplifting sermon will not be fairly reported, and instead one small phrase which appears
to oppose current sexual mores will be seized upon and denounced as harsh or cruel. Being a faithful shepherd takes courage.
The prayer of a Bishop at the Chrism Mass is rather moving: “Pray also for me, that despite my own unworthiness, I may fulfil the office of apostle, which Jesus Christ has entrusted to me. Pray that I may become more like our High Priest and Good Shepherd, the teacher and servant of all, and so be a genuine sign of Christ’s loving presence among you.”