So Westminster Cathedral is to slam its great portals every weekday evening before the rush-hour is over, in the face of commuters accustomed to saying a prayer there on their way home and of dwellers in Central London who looked for some peace there when their working day was ended. Henceforth they will be invited instead to find their winding way down into the crypt, like early Christians in the catacombs.
The reason given for this unhappy measure is economy of heating and lighting. I do not think this has anything to do with the fuel restrictions we may all yet have to face in the wake of the war in the Middle East. I think it springs from the failure of the campaign opened two years ago whereby it was hoped to raise a quarter of a million pounds to keep the great church going.
This campaign was abandoned last June, after it had
knocked up a bare £50,000, more than half of which had already been spent on advertising, administration and other expenses.
Why was that campaign such a flop? One obvious reason is the fact that we live in a secular age. The masons and their patrons who built York Minster lived in great domestic discomfort, but it never occurred to them not to give of their best in raising a house for God.
Today we have different values requiring our ears and colour TV, we make reach-me-down churches, designed more for our personal convenience than for the glory of God. We have other projects in which to invest our skills and financial resources. The Concorde, yes; cathedrals, no.
But there is an ecclesiastical reason, too, for the current lack of interest in great churches. Although Bentley was certainly an architectural genius, I myself have never given complete aesthetic approval to his Byzantine masterpiece. Nevertheless I have always thought that the
style he chose for reasserting Catholicism in England was absolutely right. There was a kind of divine effrontery' about it.
English Catholics had been deprived of their superb medieval heritage in architecture, and they had been allowed little part in the great Renaissance revival of church building led by Wren. Their metropolitan cathedral could not therefore. in a snirit of false antiquar ianism, challenge either Canterbury or St. Paul's. It had another message for our English folk. The message went something like this: You are rightly proud of your
medieval cathedrals and parish churches. You do well to acclaim Wren as a God-inspired genius. But don't run away with the idea that Christ was an Englishman. We Roman Catholics are here to remind you that the Church He founded is universal. There was once no division between her Latin and Greek traditions. So if we erect in London a great Byzantine building, don't regard it as foreign. Nothing can be foreign that pertains to the Christian Church.
But to illustrate and confirm this message it was necessary to link the cathedral with the long history of Christianity. This was done by singing there, day by day, the complete Divine Office of the Roman Rite, which scarcely differed from the immemorial Sarum liturgy which until four centuries earlier had been sung in the Abbey at the other end of Victoria Street.
Some years ago, again for reasons of economy, this work of timeless devotion was abandoned. I do not blame the Administrator (what a horrid title! can't he be a Dean or at least a Provost?) he was only anticipating the mutilation of the old liturgy that has, almost by stealth, followed the Second Vatican Council: and it is not his fault that the working altar has had to be turned the wrong way round, thus doing violence to Bentley's noble plan. I sometimes wonder whether the Fathers forgot that worldly wisdom that declares; "The councils to which Time is not called, Time will not ratify."