Westminster Cathedral has one of the finest choirs in England and it was a fitting reward for their dedication that this morning they were seen and heard throughout the world providing the music for the Votive Mass of the Precious Blood celebrated by Pope Benedict. The backbone of the music was Byrd's Mass for five voices which was sung impeccably with great depth and character. Credo III was sung antiphonally, providing a stirring contrast between the purity of the voices in the choir and the enthusiastic participation of the congregation. The offertory motet was Bruckner's Christus Factus est, and Hassler's O sacrum convivium was sung at Holy Communion, in addition to the proper communion chant and the hymn O bread of heaven.
As with other posts, the pictures are screen grabs from the webcast on the UK Papal Visit website.
You might recognise one or two of the priests among this shot of the concelebrants:
The Mass was celebrated versus populum at the High Altar. The big six candlesticks were used in their normal place on the marble platform behind the altar. There was an additional crucifix placed upon the altar itself. As with all of the public Masses of the visit, the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer were said in Latin (today, the Roman Canon was used.) As is customary at Pope Benedict's Masses, there was an extended time of silence both after the sermon and after Holy Communion.
Near the beginning of the sermon, the Holy Father referred to himself as the successor of St Peter (as indeed he did at Westminster Abbey yesterday.) As the Mass was a Votive Mass of the Precious Blood, he spoke of this mystery, reflecting on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the priesthood. In a reference to England's Catholic history, he said:
The reality of the Eucharistic sacrifice has always been at the heart of Catholic faith; called into question in the sixteenth century, it was solemnly reaffirmed at the Council of Trent against the backdrop of our justification in Christ. Here in England, as we know, there were many who staunchly defended the Mass, often at great cost, giving rise to that devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist which has been a hallmark of Catholicism in these lands.The Holy Father applied the theology of the Eucharistic sacrifice to the oblation that we make of our own sufferings, even quoting Pascal's phrase that Christ continues in agony until the end of time.
Speaking of suffering, he made what is being referred to by SKY this afternoon as his "strongest apology yet" for the suffering caused to children by abuse. I'm not sure it is stronger than the many other times he has spoken unambiguously on this subject but it was clear and straightforward.
Applying the contemplation of the cross (he referred more than once to the magnificent hanging in the Cathedral crucifix), the Holy Father drew on the teaching of Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem to speak about the lay apostolate. When speaking to the Scots Bishops in February, he warned of the tendency to confuse lay apostolate and lay ministry. Today he stressed particularly the mutually supportive relationship between laity and priests.
For the more the lay apostolate grows, the more urgently the need for priests is felt; and the more the laity’s own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to the priest stands out.
After the Mass, Pope Benedict processed to the west door of the Cathedral to meet the young people who had gathered in the Piazza. There was one young person from every parish in the country. It was stirring to see the rapturous and enthusiastic welcome that the young people gave to the Holy Father. It really gave the lie to those who have tried to pour lukewarm water on the visit by saying that Pope Benedict did not appeal to the young.
This morning was a glorious witness of faith. Pope Benedict said that he welcomed the challenge of coming to the UK. We can all be very glad that he took it up.