Category Archives: Westminster Cathedral

Advent – The Lord is coming

Lighting the Advent Candle at Westminster Cathedral, Vigil Mass November 30 2013

The Latin word Advent means coming. In Advent, we await the first coming of the Lord. It is a time of expectation and joyful anticipation. We prepare for Advent and look forward to the coming of Christ. And when He comes He will bring peace

Nation will not lift sword against nation,

there will be no more training for war,

O House of Jacob, come,

let us walk in the light of the Lord

-Isaiah 2:4-5

Picture: Lighting the Advent candle at Westminster Cathedral


A Saint Remembered

It has become a recent custom at Westminster Cathedral that in marking the feast day of St John Southworth, the feretory containing the relics of our saint is moved from its usual resting place in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs into the nave of the Cathedral where visitors and worshippers may pray and light candles around the relics.

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Father John Southworth was born into a family of Catholics in Lancashire in 1592. His family had been subject to persecution including having to pay heavy fines for not renouncing their faith. John Southworth’s father had himself been imprisoned for harbouring the Jesuit martyr-priest, Father Edmund Campion. Despite those times being very dangerous for Catholics in England and Wales, John Southworth travelled to Douai in France to study for his vocation which would conclude with his own martyrdom.

Following his ordination, Father John returned to England in 1619 and for most of the next 35 years carried out his pastoral duties and was arrested on no less than four occasions. Much of John Southworth’s work was in Westminster which in the middle ages was an area noted for its crime and abject poverty. Despite the reputation of the area and in the face of constant mortal danger, John Southworth  served the poor, the ill and the needy in Westminster and Clerkenwell . During the years of the plague, at great personal risk he worked among the infirmed and dying and raised funds for the families of victims.

While John Southworth was released on three occasions of his arrest as a result of the intervention of Henrietta Maria, the French Catholic wife of King Charles 1, he was again detained in 1654. Refusing to renounce his faith and saying instead,

“My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ’s law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict… ”

John Southworth was condemned to death at Tyburn despite the pleas of many including those of several foreign ambassadors.

His remains were sent to Douai for burial and then transferred to and hidden in an unmarked grave during the French Revolution. They were discovered in 1927 and returned to England. When he was beatified in 1929, John Southworth’s relics were enshrined at Westminster Cathedral. On October 25 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised John Southworth in company with the other martyrs of England and Wales.

Today, The St John Southworth Fund in carrying on the spirit of it’s patron saint, supports the work of parishes and organisations on a wide range of issues including poverty, old age, infirmity, disability and deprivation in the dioceses of Westminster, Brentwood and Southwark and in the county of Hertfordshire.

Time to Give Thanks

At Westminster Cathedral, Fr Alexander in his homily at the vigil mass of Corpus Christi referred to the occasion as one of the great solemnities of the liturgical year and one by which we have the opportunity to thank God for the gift of Christ.

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Man has much to be grateful for Christ, predating even the days when our Lord walked the earth. You may remember of course St Paul’s reminder to  the brothers in Corinth about the journey of their fathers through the desert. He spoke about how they were guided by the cloud above them, that they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them as they went and indeed that rock was Christ. So Christ himself has been with us from our early days. It reminds me of the poem of the footprints in the sand, when the person observing two sets of footprints while walking along the beach with the Lord, upon looking back at the various scenes of his or her life noticed that during the lowest and most difficult moments only one set of footprints were to be seen. When questioned on being supposedly abandoned, the Lord’s reply was that during those trying times it was the Lord who was carrying that person. We know from the Holy Trinity, that if the Father did the carrying then so did the Son.

Thus it is fitting that we should always remember Christ and not only in the sacraments but in our daily lives since who could and would understand us in the way that he does. It is not as St Paul says that we have a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us but instead we have one who had been tempted in every way that we are. So we should be confident that in Jesus we have one in whom not only will we always enjoy kindness, generosity and understanding  but we will also find his grace when we are in need of his help.

Returning to St Paul again who in referring to the partaking of the sacraments said,

Until the Lord comes therefore,

everytime you eat this bread and drink this wine,

you are proclaiming His death

Corinthians 11:26

it would be good that while we reflect on his words and give thanks for the deed and great gift that it is, to live a life that reflects the worthiness of the gift.

Sunday April 7

…..….. was Divine Mercy Sunday, a solemnity of the Roman Catholic Church celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. The choice of this particular Sunday is not by coincidence considering the first mass during which the image of the Divine Mercy was first displayed was indeed on the occasion of the first Sunday after Easter. Instead it was through a vision received by Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska to whom the image first appeared that Christ Jesus Himself it was, who required the image of the Divine Mercy to be blessed on the Sunday after Easter.

Divine Mercy Image

Early Life and Calling 

Born on August 25 1905 into a family of ten and named Helenka Kowalska, Faustina was the third child of Stanislaus, a carpenter and Marianna Kowalska. While attending an Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at the age of 7, she wrote that she felt a calling to religious life and wanted to enter the convent after finishing school. Unable to obtain parental permission to follow her calling, she went to work as a housekeeper in Lodz to support herself and her parents. A year passed and despite asking her parents again and on two occasions, she received firm refusals to enter a convent.

At aged 19, Faustina whie attending a dance in a park in Lodz with her sister, Faustina stated that during the course of a dance she had a vision of a suffering Jesus. Rushing away to a church, she reported that she was told by Jesus to leave for Warsaw immediately and join a convent. So she packed a small bag that night  and without telling her parents nor knowing anyone in Warsaw, took a train bound for the city the following morning.

Convent, illness and the first vision

While at Warsaw she was referred by a priest at St James’s church in  Grójecka Street to some accommodation whilst making her approaches to several convents. Faustina was finally accepted by the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy on the provision that she would pay for her habit. In 1925 she worked for a year as a housemaid, making deposits from her savings until she finally received her habit in 1926 when she took the name ‘ Maria Faustina ’ of the Blessed Sacrament. Faustina was Polish for ‘ fortunate or blessed ’. Two years later in April 1928, Maria Faustina took her first vows as a nun at a ceremony attended by her parents.

Faustina was sent to a convent in  Vilnius initially for a year as a cook before being transferred to a convent in Plock in Poland. It was at Plock that Faustina first showed signs of an illness, believed to be tuberculosis which would lead to her demise nearly a decade later. It was also at Plock that Faustina first saw the image of Christ that would lead to her writings on the Divine Mercy.

In 1931, one night while in her room in Plock, dressed in a white garment with rays of white and red light emanating from near his heart, Jesus appeared to Faustina as the ‘ King of Divine Mercy ’. In her diary ( Notebook 1, items 47 and 48 ), Faustina wriote that Jesus told her to paint an image in accordance with the vision before her with the signature ‘ Jesus, I trust in You ’. Jesus also told Faustina how He desired the image to be venerated.

Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: ‘Jesus, I trust in You ‘. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish

Faustina also noted in her diary that Jesus had also told her that he wanted the image of the Divine Mercy to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter and that Sunday should be called the Feast of Mercy. Unable to paint nor finding assistance in doing so, it was not until three years later that the first artistic rendering of the image would be made under Faustina’s direction.

Further visions, writings and historical notes

Late in May of 1933, Faustina would again be transferred to Vilnius as a gardener. It was here that she met Father Michael Sopocko, who after making his own investigations, would support her in advising her to maintain a record of all her conversations with and messages from Jesus. It was Fr Sopocko too who introduced Faustina to the artist who would, under her direction, produce the first image of the Divine Mercy, the only painting of the image Faustina herself ever saw. It in 1934 that Faustina recorded a prediction that her message of the Divine Mercy would be suppressed for some time and appear to be ‘ utterly undone ’ before it would gain acceptance again. Item 378 in Faustina’s Notebook 1 bore this interesting inscription

There will come a time when this work, which God is demanding so very much, will be as though utterly undone. And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence of its authenticity. It will be a new splendour for the Church, although it has been dormant in it from long ago.

In September 1935, the year of the first mass of the Divine Mercy, Faustina wrote of a vision about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in her diary. In the chaplet which was about a third of the length of the Rosary, Faustina wrote that the purpose for the prayers of mercy contained in the chaplet was threefold – to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy and to show mercy to others.

By November of that same year, Faustina had written the rules for a new contemplative congregation devoted to Divine Mercy and a month later visited a house in Vilnius which she had seen in  a vision as the first convent for the congregation. However she was reminded by Archbishop Jalbrzykowski that she was perpetually vowed to her current order

Faustina’s long time supporter Fr Sopocko wrote the first brochure on the Divine Mercy devotion in the summer of 1936. It carried the image of the Divine Mercy on the cover and Faustina was in receipt of this as her illness took hold. She was moved to Pradnik in Krakow where she would spend most of the final two years of her life in prayer while writing her diaries.  In March of the following year, Faustina wrote of a vision that the feast of Divine Mercy would be celebrated in her local chapel in the presence of large crowds and that the same celebration would be held in Rome before the Pope. In July, the first holy cards with the Divine Mercy image were produced and Faustina began at the suggestion of Fr Sopocko to write the instructions for the novena of Divine Mercy which she had reported as a message from Jesus on Good Friday. Throughout the year, much progress was made in promoting the messages of Divine Mercy and a pamphlet with the image of Divine Mercy  was published with the title Christ, King of Mercy. In it were the chaplet. Novena and the litany of Divine Mercy.

The passing, beatification and canonisation of Sister Faustina 

In April 1938, Faustina’s illness had worsened and she was sent to a sanatorium in Pradnik. However by June she was no longer able to write and Fr Sopocko who visited her wrote of her condition but noted her ecstasy when in prayer. Later in September, Faustina was taken back home to Krakow where she would remain until passing away in October after making her final confession, 13 years after entering the convent. She was buried on October 7 and now rests at the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow.

Before her death, Sr Faustina predicted a terrible war and asked for prayers for Poland. When her prediction of war came true, Archbishop Jalbrzykowski allowed public access to the Divine Mercy image and the size of the crowds attending lef to the Divine Mercy devotion which was a strength and inspiration for many especially during the difficult times of the war. By 1941 the devotion had spread to America where millions of copies of Divine Mercy prayer cards were distributed there and wordwide. Whilst in hiding during the war  Fr Sopocko wrote the constitution for the congregation and assisted with the formation of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy. Within 13 years for Faustina’s passing, 150 Divine Mercy centers had already been established in Poland alone. However in 1959 Faustina’s writings were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books and remained there until the index was abolished in 1966 by Pope Paul VI. It had been reported that the initial ban stemmed from theological issues so in 1965 Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Krakow launched a new investigation while submitting a number of documents about Faustina to the Vatican, requesting that the process of her beatification should begin.

In 1977, over a year before being elected as John Paul II, Archbishop Wojtyla asked the Vatican to review and lift the ban on the Divine Mercy devotion to successful effect the following year. Thus in April 1978  the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of faith declared that the notification ban was no longer binding, and stated that misunderstandings were created by a faulty Italian translation of Faustina’s Diary which were compounded by difficulties in communication during World War II and the subsequent Communist era.

The formal beatification of Faustina involved the case of Maureen Digan, a visitor from the United States to the tomb of Sister Faustina. While praying at the tomb Miss Digan a sufferer from  Lymphedema (a disease which causes significant swelling due to fluid retention) for decades and who had undergone 10 operations including a leg amputation without success reported that while praying at Faustina’s tomb, she heard a voice saying ‘ Ask for my help and I will help you ’ This she did and her constant pain stopped. 2 days later Maureen Digan reported that her shoe became too large for her because her body stopped undue liquid retention. Her recovery was investigated by numerous physicians who stated that she was healed but were unable to provide any explanation for the occurrence. The case was declared miraculous by the Vatican in 1992 based on the additional testimony of over twenty witnesses about her prior condition.

Sister Maria Faustina was beatified on April 18, 1993 and canonized on April 30, 2000 as the first saint in the 21st century. That her Vatican biography directly quotes some of her conversations with Jesus distinguishes Saint Faustina from the many other reported visions. At a  modest estimate made in 2010, the following of the Divine Mercy devotion was believed to be over one hundred million Catholics.

It would not have escaped our notice that Saint Faustina’s writings about the need to obtain, trust and dispense mercy mirrors very closely the words our Saviour gave us in that as we ask for mercy ourselves so  should we show it to others. Thus it is very appropriate therefore that as Christ Jesus Himself intended, this special feast should follow the passion and celebrations of Holy Week when we recall the sacrifice of our Lord and rejoice in His resurrection and saving grace, when indeed our reflections should encourage us to turn those words into deeds.


Easter Triduum 2013 – Christ Is Risen

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At the Easter Vigil on the sanctuary at Westminster Cathedral, Father Alexander a priest, comes before the Archbishop and announces 

Most Reverend Father

I bring you a message of great joy

Christ is risen


In his reply, Archbishop Vincent Nichols spoke of  this Easter Vigil as a celebration of light and life, a triumph of light over darkness and of life over death. That in celebrating these truths and taking them to heart will every moment of our lives be transformed. 

He then referred to the night’s liturgy which placed the truth into its boldest context and invited us to grasp the deepest meaning of the triumph of our Risen Christ, the triumph over evil.

Reflecting on the beginning of the ceremony when the Paschal candle was lit Archbishop Nichols explained that the Paschal Candle symbolised Christ as the Light of the world, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning of all things and it’s end, The one to Whom all time belongs. He went on to say that nothing was beyond the reach of the victory won for us in the flesh and blood of Christ. That as St Paul had written, that when Christ died, He died once and for all to sin so we may have new life, so we could live free from the slavery of sin. 

Drawing on the recent words of Pope Francis, he focussed our thoughts on the ills of today where the reality of sin manifests itself in the wounds inflicted on humanity, a world riddled with economic conflicts that hit the weakest, where man’s  greed for money which could not be taken from this earth in any event, caused great suffering.  How indeed habits of mind and heart become actions often repeated. Thus the importance of the light of this night, the light of Christ, was a reminder to us that the victory of Christ over sin was always available to us and that  His mercy and healing were to be found in every mass, in every confession. Tonight too therefore, we thank God for the ministry of the church through which this mercy comes to us. 

However there was too another aspect of which we should be aware this Holy Saturday and it was that in Christ reaching out to Adam to bring him out of the deepest pit into the glory of new light and life, we too as a result of this enjoy the grace of the redemption of our past. It was vital too to reflect that this peace was only possible through the work, life and light of Christ. While the world would make different demands on us in seeking full payment for our past, in God’s world, a different economy was at work. One, in which the offer of a redemption of the past and a surety for the future was always available. Even the most deep-seated of all our burdens, that of sin which hung like a  millstone round our neck, Archbishop Vincent reassured the congregation,  will be struck and shattered by Christ. 

Thus as it was written all who are thirsty would come to him and listen and our souls will live.  It was not though without taking on a special task, that of witnessing for Christ and taking the lead again from  Pope Francis that we should be looking to the youth of today to  bring us joy of faith which itself must be lived with a young heart. Then having extended his Easter wishes to the congregation along with his  blessing, the Archbishop had his customary meeting with his flock at the steps of the Cathedral.


Easter Triduum 2013 : Good Friday – A ransom paid

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Antiphon : God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.

In your compassion blot out my offence.

O wash me more and more from my guilt

and cleanse me from my sin

Consider the extreme cruelty suffered by Christ Jesus at the hands of his executioners. 

His inner garments adhered to his torn flesh. Yet they dragged them off him so violently that the skin came off with them. Those who sought His life used violence against him. And when extending his hands and feet upon the cross, they then proceeded to nail them to the wood so Jesus would die in anguish.  Each blow of the hammer was taken for each and every one of us and each minute of the three hours that Christ was held upright on the cross when under the weight of His body, those very wounds would bring further agony to our Lord, was every minute of additional suffering endured for us.

Consider then that it would not be for nothing if we turned our sorrows into something good. As Pope Francis himself said the cross was the way by which God had made his reply. In response to evil God’s answer was Christ on the Cross. Thus the ‘ Cross of Christ ‘ which is  about love, mercy and forgiveness should encourage in us that the response to evil is to do good, the more than equal opposite of evil. The beautiful prayers, lamentations and meditations on this Good Friday should be a help to us to focus on how we respond to the sacrifice made which is an example to us. Christ died for us on Good Friday so the Good in this day is that love which the Father has shown to us through His Son. We can continue this good if we take up the Cross of Christ and do good ourselves. There is much that needs our attention not only in the world but in our own communities. Sad but it is still evident in the twenty first century that children are impoverished and going hungry, lacking opportunities which would give them a way forward in their lives while the homeless live on our streets.  

Christ came to die for us and once and for all, do away with sin by replacing evil with good. If Christ on the cross means something to us then we could turn the sadness into something good in doing something good and positive. The ransom has been paid.

Picture – The congregation at Westminster Cathedral join a queue to venerate the cross on Good Friday. With the numbers attending The Celebration of The Passion of the Lord, it would be nearly two hours before the next phase of the day’s events, that of the Stations of the Cross would begin.


Easter Triduum 2013 at Westminster Cathedral : Holy Thursday

A picture a day  –   A thought for each day


Said Christ to his apostles ( per Benedictus Antiphon ) 

– I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer

The story then taken up by St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians 11:23-26

This is what I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you : that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, 

‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in as a memorial of me.’

In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, 

‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’

Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

The meal thus ended and having spoken one last time with his disciples, our Lord Jesus is taken away, willingly and without protest to fulfil his mission. as evening approaches then, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel lies empty, the altar stripped. Jesus is taken from our midst since to take us to our salvation, He would have to be taken this way. As great as the love of the Father is for the Son, great too is the love of the Father and of the Son for us. Great too is the price that has been paid for this love.