“Today we receive the personal blessing of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, as we begin a new venture in faith: celebrating the opening of a new Shrine Church and the beginning of a new foundation in this Shrewsbury Diocese. Catholic churches have long remained open beyond the times of worship offering to all a place of peace and prayer. To the Catholic mind “a church” whether it is built of tin or stone is always our “home” – with or without a dome!
Sacred buildings should be “truly worthy and beautiful” (GIRM no. 288) but it is not the architecture which makes them a sacred place but the Presence of Christ, God and man, who makes Himself truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist as the Catechism declares (CCC 1374). So in every church where the Holy Eucharist is validly celebrated the mystery which Ahaz refused to countenance is found anew: “God-is-with-us” (Isaiah 8:10).
Yet fear of crime and perhaps our neglect have seen many of our churches locked and closed. So it is our hope that this Shrine Church may in time be left open to all who seek the peace of prayer within its walls. And by the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament draw many towards a renewed Eucharistic faith. This is the hope I wish to entrust to you today.
Almost a thousand years ago a woman named Richeldis de Faverches (we note a French name) was inspired to build a replica of the Holy House of Nazareth in England. She did this because the Mother of God asked that the joy of the Annunciation we celebrate today should always remain in this land. We may be far removed from Walsingham in the distant Norfolk countryside but on this hillside on England’s western coast we pray the same joy may be found by all who come to this shrine church of New Brighton.
I am conscious today that without the generous faith of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest we would not be witnessing the opening of this church today. We owe a special debt of gratitude to Mgr Wach the founder of the Institute; to Canon Hudson its superior in the United Kingdom and to our own Canon Meney and Abbe Montjean whose dedication we have witnessed in these past months and the seminarians who have come to help us today (and we note again many French names!). We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge the Institute undertakes but we have come to stand with them today in faith and prayer and with thanksgiving for this foundation.
Seafarers once recognised this church as a dome marking their safe arrival home. Canon Meney has used another image for this church set on a hilltop: “a beacon of hope”. Perhaps in this image we can recognise the new mission given to this church in a new and vibrant parish and amid the new needs of those who travel through the century before us.
I was asked in a radio interview whether I saw myself as part of an old, traditional church or a dynamic, evangelising community. My interviewer saw these as distinct alternatives but to the Catholic mind the answer must always be both! We can only be a dynamic, evangelising community if we are rooted in the continuity of the Church’s faith and worship. And always at the heart and centre, always the source and the summit as the Second Vatican Council declared is what St Paul tells us he received from the Lord: the mystery and reality of the Eucharist.
And so it shouldn’t surprise us that Pope Benedict observes how: “every great reform” every authentic renewal of the Church’s life, “has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among his people” (Sacramentum Caritatis no. 6). This is the prayer and intercession that I wish to especially entrust to this Shrine Church.
In fulfilment of the Institute’s particular mission the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments will be celebrated in what we call “the extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite. The “ordinary form” being the Missal of Paul VI with which we are most familiar in its English translation.
The Holy Father tells us: “It is not appropriate to speak of two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two rites’ but a twofold use of one and the same Rite.” So we must never be misled into seeing “contradictions” between the two forms of the Mass when we speak of an “old” Mass and a “new” Mass.
Pope Benedict explains, “what earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too … It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer and give them their proper place” (Letter to Bishops, July 2007).
This too will be the mission of this shrine church witnessing to this continuity and harmony of which our Holy Father speaks with that unbroken and living tradition of the Church’s faith and worship. So whatever our familiarity with Latin or our understanding of the ancient ceremonies of the Roman Rite we can all recognise one and the same faith expressed in the Church’s prayer and worship.
These two “usuages” of the Roman Rite when celebrated with great reverence and in accordance with the Church’s liturgical instructions should never appear to us as different “Masses” but one and the same Mass.
At the centre of every Mass in either ordinary or extraordinary form is always found Christ Himself, His Sacrifice and Real Presence amongst us. So today we do not simply wish to open the doors of a closed building but to be open in our hearts to what Blessed John Paul II called “Eucharistic amazement” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia no.5).
We wish to recognise in this Shrine Church set high on the Wirral horizon not simply a landmark but a beacon announcing hope to passing generations. So above the mists of confusion which obscure our vision, the storms of controversy which unsettle us we may turn our gaze always towards Christ, loving and redeeming us, in the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Altar, He who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”
+ Mark, Bishop of Shrewsbury
(Photo and Video by Philip Chidell)