Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Pope in Westminster Abbey

After his visit to Lambeth Palace and having given his address in Westminster Hall, the Pope was conveyed amidst cheering crowds to Westminster Abbey.

For many it was the highlight of the day.

The Pope was welcomed by The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster.

The Pope may have been surprised (or maybe not) to have seen amongst the ten gothic niches above the Great west doorway the statues. of two prominent Roman Catholics:

Statue of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Martyr (1995-8)
Designed by Tim Crawley
Sculpted by John Roberts
French Richemont limestone
Westminster Abbey, London

and Saint Maximilian Kolbe (8 January 1894 – 14 August 1941)

Statue of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr (1995-8)
Designed by Tim Crawley
Sculpted by Andrew Tanser.
French Richemont limestone
Westminster Abbey, London

On Sunday 12 September 2010, the Dean of Westminster preached on the meaning of the papal visit. The sermon is on the Abbey website.

In his sermon, he explained the importance of the visit to the Abbey of the Pope with the Archbishop of Canterbury:

"[T]he visit of the Pope with the Archbishop of Canterbury to Westminster Abbey, here at the heart of the Establishment, will be a remarkable and truly historic event.

It will be a sign of the end of old enmities, that in truth have been dying over the past fifty years.

It will also point afresh to collaboration between the Churches in God’s mission to the people of this country.

The presence itself of the Pope and Archbishop side by side, two pastors together, in the company of many other Christian leaders in the Abbey, will silently proclaim their willingness to go in search of the sheep that are lost, of the sheep that are not of this fold.

They will have in their minds the high priestly prayer of Jesus, as recorded in St John’s Gospel the night before he was crucified, ‘I ask not only on behalf of [my disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ [John 17: 20f.]

The survival of the Church and of Christian faith in our country has not been the result over the years of careful human planning, of slick management, of subtle positioning to allow the message to be most easily received. Nor has it been the result of a softening of the sometimes difficult and unpalatable message of Jesus, that the way to life is through death, a way of self-sacrificial love, that those who wish to follow Christ must first deny themselves, and then take up their cross and follow him.

Rather the Christian message of life has been passed on by people like us, weak, wilful, fallible human beings, often disagreeing, sometimes warring between themselves. It is only by the power of the message itself, by its truth and by the real freedom it brings that the Church has survived this long and will survive long into an unseeable future, in the grace of God and by the power of his Holy Spirit."

In his moving address the Dean was refreshingly frank and honest but optimistic:

"[T]he new atheists have been vigorous in exploiting the apparent weakness of religion. On the other hand, religion is undeniably persistent. The atheists of the 19th and 20th centuries who predicted the death of religion and the ultimate triumph of atheist rationalism and secularism would perhaps be surprised to discover that religion is not going away.

Religious communities are a considerable power for good in this world and in this country, where Christianity and the Church are deeply and ineradicably embedded within our national culture and self-consciousness and remain influential.

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the one sheep that is lost. The good shepherd leaves the ninety nine sheep safe in the sheepfold and goes over the hills and dales to seek and find the one that is lost. The clergy are to imitate Jesus, the good shepherd, seeking and saving that which is lost. Bishops and archbishops have often been called pastors.

One of the titles favoured by the Pope’s short-lived predecessor in 1978, Pope for thirty three days, John Paul I was Supreme Pastor. Pastoring the flock of Christ is demanding, wearing and often disappointing.

We must and do pray for church leaders with their heavy burdens. But it would always be wrong to suppose that the Church is at risk of terminal decline or of fatal division."

The Abbey website also carries the following:

The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Evening Prayer Service at Westminster Abbey

The Address of His Grace The Archbishop of Canterbury

The Address of the Pope

Videos of the visit are below:

One has to be filled with gratitude to the Anglican Church for its fulsome and gracious welcome and hospitality to the Pope on his visit.

Some from a Catholic perspective have attempted to undermine the importance of the Papal visit to the Abbey. However that would be gravely mistaken.

The Anglicans were not looking for anything in return, some concession from the Pope. The Anglican Establishment is too grown up and mature in its faith for that.

It was a moment of reconciliation to put the old enmities aside and to establish a new relationship of "collaboration" building on the past fifty years of the beginning of the thaw which started when Archbishop Fisher of Canterbury paid a private visit to Pope John XXIII in the Vatican.

No one misunderstands that there are differences (or underestimates them) between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.

But the differences do not preclude a close and cordial relationship where both parties behave with proper respect and civility towards each other and assist each other in common objectives in an increasingly hostile environment. Not least in the glorification of God.

The Pope obviously found it a joyful occasion. And we should not try to detract from the joyfulness of such an event by carping comments. We should be grateful at the hand of friendship being offered and respond in kind. As His Holiness did.

In his address he said:

"Our commitment to Christian unity is born of nothing less than our faith in Christ, in this Christ, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

It is the reality of Christ's person, his saving work and above all the historical fact of his resurrection, which is the content of the apostolic kerygma and those credal formulas which, beginning in the New Testament itself, have guaranteed the integrity of its transmission.

The Church's unity, in a word, can never be other than a unity in the apostolic faith, in the faith entrusted to each new member of the Body of Christ during the rite of Baptism.

It is this faith which unites us to the Lord, makes us sharers in his Holy Spirit, and thus, even now, sharers in the life of the Blessed Trinity, the model of the Church's koinonia here below.

Dear friends, we are all aware of the challenges, the blessings, the disappointments and the signs of hope which have marked our ecumenical journey.

Tonight we entrust all of these to the Lord, confident in his providence and the power of his grace.

We know that the friendships we have forged, the dialogue which we have begun and the hope which guides us will provide strength and direction as we persevere on our common journey.

At the same time, with evangelical realism, we must also recognise the challenges which confront us, not only along the path of Christian unity, but also in our task of proclaiming Christ in our day.

Fidelity to the word of God, precisely because it is a true word, demands of us an obedience which leads us together to a deeper understanding of the Lord's will, an obedience which must be free of intellectual conformism or facile accommodation to the spirit of the age.

This is the word of encouragement which I wish to leave with you this evening, and I do so in fidelity to my ministry as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Saint Peter, charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ's flock."

Westminster Abbey’s recorded history can be traced back well over a thousand years.

Dunstan, Bishop of London, brought a community of Benedictine monks to the site around 960 AD and a century later King Edward established his palace nearby and extended his patronage to the neighbouring monastery. He built for it a great stone church in the Romanesque style which was consecrated on 28 December 1065.

The Abbey has been the coronation church for Kings and Queens of England since Christmas Day 1066

By a royal grant of Queen Elizabeth I in May 1560 the Abbey became ‘The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster’ and since then it has been a "Royal Peculiar": exempt from episcopal authority as before and answerable direct to the Sovereign as Visitor.

Therefore the Papal Visit required Royal permission and the permission of HM the Queen was therefore granted to the Papal Visit and ceremony at the Abbey. A very gracious act and one which will be recognised as such by British Catholics.

Three particular events in the Cathedral amongst others were highlights of a very important visit: the attendance at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior; the veneration of the St Augustine Gospels; and the joint prayers of the Pope and the Archbishop at the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor

The visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior had added poignancy because here we had a German Pope who had been conscripted at the end of the Second World War to fight in the German Army, All of this happening happening at the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Another page of the nation`s history has perhaps been turned .

The St Augustine Gospels (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Lib. MS. 286) is an illuminated Gospel Book which dates from the 6th century. It was taken to Britain shortly after it was made and has been here ever since. It is the oldest surviving Latin (i.e. not Greek or Syriac) illustrated Gospel book.

It is traditionally considered to be either a volume brought by St Augustine to England with the Gregorian mission in AD 597, or one of a number of books recorded as being sent to him in 601 by Pope Gregory the Great.

Portrait of St Luke
Folio 129v of the St. Augustine Gospels MS 286 (early 6th century)
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
The pediment has an inscription with a hexameter from the Carmen Paschale by the fifth century Christian poet Coelius Sedulius (Book 1, line 357):"Iura sacerdotii Lucas tenet ore iuvenci" - "Luke holds the laws of priesthood in the mouth of the bull".

Scenes from the Passion
Folio 125r of the St. Augustine Gospels MS 286 (early 6th century)
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

St Edward the Confessor was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England and he died on 5 January 1066. He was canonised in 1161 by Pope Alexander III, and is commemorated on 13 October by the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and other Anglican Churches. He is the patron saint of the British Royal family.

In 1163, his remains were enshrined in Westminster Abbey with solemnities presided over by Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury

His tomb is surrounded by the tombs of English kings and queens: Henry III, Edward I, Eleanor of Castile, Edward III, Philippa of Hainault, and Richard II with his queen Anne of Bohemia. For centuries English monarchs were crowned in this chapel.

The tomb and shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor, Westminster Abbey, London

King Edward the Confessor
by Manwine, from a die attributed to Theodoric (active 1065-1071).
silver penny, 1065
The National Portrait Gallery, London

King Edward the Confessor
by Iocetel, from a die attributed to Theodoric (active 1065-1071).
silver penny, 1065
3/4 in. (19 mm) diameter
The National Portrait Gallery, London

The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury at prayer together at the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor


  1. This is a truly wonderful report of our beloved Holy Father's visit to the Abbey and prayers there with the Archbisop of Canterbury - a truly momentous event and gesture on both their parts and also that of the Queen for granting permission for the Pope to visit the Abbey - lovely photo's, too!
    Thank you so much. God bless.
    Kathy Oakley
    Cape Town, South Africa