These are tumultuous times for politics in Britain. Following revelations of Members of Parliament claiming huge expenses, and dishonestly acquiring all sorts of household goods by charging them up to the taxpayer, there is a sense of shock and anger among the public. Several MPs have already announced that they will not stand at the next election, and others are facing angry meetings in their local constituencies. There is talk of the emergence of new parties, and of a general realignment in the British political system.
Part of the problem is that Parliament itself is less important than it was – something like 80 per cent of all legislation is now initiated by the European Union, with the British legislature simply giving formal agreement to it. The Westminster Parliament has, over recent years, lost much of its status and meaning.
But there have also been less gloomy events associated with Westminster during these days when most talk is about corruption, cynicism, and a sense of uncertainty over the future. While politicians have been under scrutiny at the Palace of Westminster, other events have been unfolding at Westminster Cathedral. This is the seat of the Archbishops of Westminster. A new Archbishop arrived in May and was formally installed in a magnificent liturgy that was broadcast – thanks to EWTN – worldwide.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols was welcomed into the Cathedral at Solemn Vespers the evening before – a beautiful service at which a litany of saints was chanted, and Mary’s intercession implored. Mary is honoured in England under some ancient titles – Our Lady of Hal, Our Lady of Muswell, Our Lady of Willesden, Our Lady of Walsingham, all referring to great shrines that were popular before the Reformation and have since been revived.
At the installation Mass, the presence of guests from the Anglican Communion, from other Christian groups, and from other faiths, was a sign of goodwill. Lord Guthrie – a former Chief of the Defence Staff – represented HRH the Prince of Wales. The Lord Mayor of Westminster was present, as was the British Ambassador to the Holy See. There were some 50 Bishops from England and Wales as well as from Scotland and Ireland – and, of course, there were vast crowds of Catholics, both inside the Cathedral and outside in the sunshine, where the Mass was broadcast through loudspeakers.
We are in need of spiritual uplift and inspiration: the Parliamentary scandals are somehow a symbol of much else that is wrong with Britain, and people know it.
Perhaps we should heed the words of St Paul to the Philippians, read at the Solemn Vespers: “ I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith.”