A magnificent procession of Papal Knights, and great numbers of priests in white chasubles, and bishops with white mitres…rows of white-clad seminarians…small choristers in traditional dress with stiff collars and freshly-brushed hair…and a great concourse of people thronging the Cathedral as John Henry Newman’s beautiful hymn “Praise to the Holiest” soared into the high domes above us….that was the scene at the great Mass of Thanksgiving for the 2010 Papal Visit to Britain.
Your correspondent is writing this at an internet cafe near the Cathedral,rain gently splashing down outside. It is one year since the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, and this special thanksgiving Mass brought people from across Britain together in celebration. It was a ticket-only event, and the Cathedral was filled with representatives of various groups involved with the Papal Visit, and Cathedral regulars who were able to enter a special ballot fore places.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols concelebrated Mass with a great crowd of other Bishops, and there was magnificent music from the Cathedral’s famous choir. We sang Newman’s hymns because, of course, the beatification of this great Englishman was the highlight of Pope Benedict’s visit last year. In his sermon, Archbishop Vincent recalled the great events of those wonderful four days, and in particular the superb speech given by the Holy Father in Westminster Hall at the heart of our Parliament, where he praised Britain’s democracy and spoke, very beautifully, about how this must be rooted in and nourished by the great spiritual heritage to which we are heirs. The way in which faith illuminates reason, and the central reality of the need to recognise this, were strong messages recieved during his visit.
Archbishop Vincent also recalled that wonderful night vigil in Hyde Park, quoting from a vivid description written by a young participant. The vigil began with a parade with banners of all the Catholic organisations in the country – a huge number of them, reflecting a massive range of work and service and devotion. Then the gentle voice of the Holy Father, and then the silence of our united prayer before the Blessed Sacrament…
Today’s celebratory Mass came just a short while after the great witness of World Youth Day in Madrid, to which the Archbishop also referred – two million young people praying and joyfully affirming their Catholic faith together.
And finally – here’s an interesting detail from today’s Mass. The new Mass translation was of course used, and in the sacristy beforehand, Fergal Martin and his team from the Catholic Truth Society, publishers of the new Missal in England, formally presented a copy to the Archbishop. A beautiful piece of work, gold-tooled and leather-bound, it was solemnly carried in procession . A fitting way to mark a special anniversay.