Editor of the 'Westminster Cathedral Journal'
THE recent demolition of old buildings has given us — albeit temporarily—a magnificent and first-time view of the West Front and Campanile of Westminster Cathedral from Victoria Street.
How splendid John Francis Bentley's Byzantine architecture will look when the development is complete and Westminster Cathedral has a fine open piazza onto Victoria Street.
Standing across the street. a little boy asked : "What's that over there. Daddy?"
"That's the Cathedral."
"Yes I know, Daddy, but what's it FOR'?"
The unnerving ability of percipient children to ask deadly questions is matched only by their ingratitude for the sweating efforts of the parents to provide reasonably coherent answers.
In the post-Conciliar Church this question is central and rightly permits of no simpliste explications. It requires a mature and considered response. For if the Cathedral is not relevant to the world of 1972, it has no part in Christ's Mission of 1972.
As a result of the gradual unfolding of the Sacred Constitution of the Liturgy. we are better able now to provide a convincing raison d'être for a cathedral than perhaps at any time since the rise of our urban and pluralist society.
One major function of the Church of Christ is to preach God's Word and to communicate His Life to men through the Sacraments-above all in the Mass, wherein as Tertullian wrote: "God becomes man that man might become God's."
Clearly for this function to be most apt, it demands the auricular understanding of all men if they are to participate to the full. Hence the vernacular tongues. the communal action with and through the ministerial priest, the sense of intimate sharing. Thus the parish church or small eucharistic community.
A second function, more inherently important still, springs from the Church's very composition of human beings at one in belief. In
trinsic to human nature is man's awareness of his status as creature.
From this derives the fundamental obligation on all men, simply because they are men, to render free, articulate praise to the Creator -on their own behalf and on behalf of the whole of the rest Of creation. Christ's Church has an essential duty, a primary responsibility to communicate man to God.
Since mankind is worshipping the Creator, only the highest and finest of his cultural creativity, be it in word, music. art, or the sacred dance-form of the ritual, is worthy of an Omnipotent Majesty. We do well sometimes to draw back from trying to be too "matey" with God.
And over, in and through this man/God communication there must be the sense. of Mystery. In touch with the Untouchable, in tune with the Infinite, in the wrapt silence of adoration of the Godhead. man needs to be taken from the everyday communion with his fellows and caught up, for a timeless moment, in the sp!endour, harmony and majesty proper to God alone.
Only a cathedral can preserve, maintain, inspire this worship in its fullness.
Looking from the top of the Campanile of Westminster Cathedral at the hideous monstrosities which modern man erects when he is worshipping the mammon of self, the justification for building a house of rare beauty when he wishes to worship God is patently obvious.
There is much truth to be gleaned from listening to the natural way in which people express themselves. Ask the worshippers streaming from Westminster Cathedral every Sunday, parishioners, Londoners, or visitors : "Where have you just been?" Well over 90 per cent will spontaneously reply: "I've been to the Cathedral."
Few will answer that they haVe been to "church." There is an automatic distinction in the minds of Catholics between the Cathedral and "church." meaning their parish church. In their speech they betray a need for both.
Note also that few, Londoners or not, will say "Westminster Cathedral." Nearly all will say "THE Cathedral." It is not my slightest intention in any way to denigrate, or to derogate from the importance of, the fine cathedral churches of other dioceses.
I am simply suggesting that in describing Westminster as "THE Cathedral," most are acknowledging that the Cathedral Church at Westminster occupies a special place as the focal point of Catholic worship in England and Wales. Nay more: with the Cardinal Archbishop, President of the Hierarchy of England and Wales, as its parish priest, Westminster Cathedral forms the natural central shrine of the Catholic Faith in the capital city of London—still the hub of the English-speaking world. In the recent years of liturgical renewal this central role of Westminster Cathedral has presented a challenge of leadership and of fidelity to the liturgical life of the Church. Throughout the world, not least in Rome itself, modern pressures have forced a restriction on the presentation of the Liturgy in the great cathedrals.
Almost alone, Westminster has endeavoured to uphold its raison d'être. Each day of the year the Divine Office of Morning Prayer is publicly recited. Evening Prayer (Vespers) is sung. with the solemnity due to each particular day.
Like the two side pieces of a triptych. these Divine
Offices flank the daily Capitular High Mass. Guided by the wise foresight of Cardinal Heenan and his Administrator, we believe that we have been, and are, completely faithful both to the post-Conciliar liturgical changes and to the ancient traditions of Catholic worship.
Rubrical fidelity has been allied to deep psychological insight into the emotional needs of true human sentiment. The result is a viable, thriving Liturgy. We retain the best of tradition: we arc open to the new mutations of the Spirit breathing in a Living Church.
The Cathedral is neither conservative nor progressive —it is Catholic and authoritative.
The Sacraments, now gradually being incorporated into the structure of the Mass — Confirmation. Marriage, and tentatively Baptism --are administered frequently. In the administration of the Sacrament of Penance, Westminster Cathedral provides a penitential service unique amongst any Church or Cathedral in the world.
Nor is the para-liturgical life of the Cathedral allowed to lapse. The Cathedral retains much of the ancient and hallowed devotional life of English-speaking Catholics: the weekly Holy Hour, the daily Benediction, the May and October Devotions, the Stations of the Cross.
Here firmly enshrined will be found the twin pillars of traditional Catholic Piety: the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Devotion to our Lady,
Last year, Mr. Colin Davis. the eminent conductor, kindly gave me an interview for the Westminster Cathedral Journal. I asked him why he had publicly stated his personal preference for conducting sacred music in the Cathedral rather than in any other concert hall, church or theatre. His answer sums up all that I have been trying to say: "Westminster Cathedral is the market place of the People of God."
This is why we need a cathedral. This is what a cathedral is FOR.