Dear Friends in Christ,
Last Saturday marked an important milestone in the history of the cathedral-like, St. Walburge’s Church, Preston, and the Diocese of Lancaster when the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest assumed responsibility for what has now become a shrine church for the liturgy in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.
(The Photos here in this Blog of the Mass are the property of the Bishop’s Office, Lancaster and may only be used with permission by asking at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
A remarkable congregation of around seven hundred gathered for the opening High Mass, at which I as Bishop of Lancaster presided from the throne and preached the homily.
The well-known demographic changes and housing redevelopment in Preston and a proliferation of churches, reflecting the city’s very Catholic past, meant that this splendid church, dating from 1854 was, by and large, now greatly underused for worship.
St. Walburge’s had almost become surplus to our diocesan needs, and several previous Bishops of Lancaster found themselves at a loss as to what was the way ahead and purpose for such a fine building in the new situation which had evolved.
The relatively young Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest
had a proven track record of taking on large, almost redundant churches, and restoring them for use in the extraordinary form, as has happened in New Brighton, Wirral in the Diocese of Shrewsbury.
The Institute responded willingly and generously to my personal and direct appeal and Saturday’s opening Mass marked the culmination of a year-long period of care-filled negotiations between the Diocese of Lancaster and the Institute.
Here is my sermon for the occasion:
‘The Apostle counsels us today that if we are to boast or glory it should be in the Lord. So it is therefore, first and foremost, with a profound sense of gratitude to almighty God that we are here today to witness the beginning of a new phase in the history of this venerable church of Saint Walburge. To pick up the image of Christ in the gospel parable, in recent years, for a variety of reasons, there has not been as much oil as we would have wished for in the lamp that is St. Walburge’s church.
The city of Preston has rightly taken pride in its long Catholic and Christian history, and a powerful symbol of that history has been St. Walburge’s, visible from near and far through its unique spire. The question has often been asked during these last decades, what is the future of St. Walburge’s, will it continue and remain open as a house of prayer and worship as originally envisaged by the founding Jesuit fathers over one hundred and fifty years ago?
Our presence here today and the fresh initiative now starting give a definite yes to that question. St. Walburge’s assuredly has a future for which we thank God, the giver of all good things. The church will now be open every day of the week to cater for the spiritual needs of those who pass through its doors. Mass will be offered daily, there will be the opportunity for quiet prayer and adoration, with regular access to other sacraments and religious devotions.
St. Walburge’s church will again become a much needed spiritual presence, and hopefully a beacon, in this part of Preston where the human spirit will find comfort and strength in our often confused and troubled twenty-first century world. The new venture now beginning in this magnificent church cannot but bring down blessings from heaven on the city of Preston. The common good and the city of Preston will indeed be well served by the worship and prayer that takes place daily here in St. Walburge’s.
From today another page in the history of St. Walburge’s is being turned and written, made possible by the gracious and willing generosity of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. The Institute has accepted responsibility to ensure that St. Walburge’s continues to remain what is was intended to be – the house of God and a place of prayer for all people.
As Bishop of Lancaster, conscious and grateful to the generations of clergy who have ministered here down the years, I thank most sincerely Mgr. Gilles Wach and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest for their acceptance of my bold and heartfelt appeal to assume responsibility for St. Walburge’s. I also place on record the cooperation of Canon Amaury Montjean from the Institute’s foundation in New Brighton, Wirral,
who has made every effort to ensure that the necessary negotiations with my clergy and diocesan officers have been smooth and trouble-free.
The gospel parable highlights the wise virgins who stayed alert with oil in their lamps and so were ready to meet the bridegroom at whatever hour he came. The Church universal is constantly on the watch for Christ her bridegroom.
The sacramental and spiritual nourishment – like that oil of the wise virgins in our gospel – which St. Walburge’s will offer to Christ’s people who gather for worship will ensure that they are equipped to meet Christ as he comes to them in the events of their everyday lives. Mindful of the faith and commitment of the past generations who have gathered and worshipped almighty God in these sacred surroundings since 1854, we offer sincere thanks in this Mass for their legacy of this beautiful building.
As we look to the future, with a spirit of renewed hope we entrust St. Walburge’s and its future to the care and protection of Our Blessed Lady and St. Walburge, and make our own the inspiring words of the ancient psalm: This day was made by the Lord, let us rejoice and be glad. Amen.’
The large and impressive congregation, notable for its devotion, reverence and silence during this long liturgy, is an indication of the attraction the traditional Latin liturgy retains for many Catholics.
The beautifully executed Gregorian chant by the young seminarians of the Institute greatly enhanced the liturgy and helped raise the mind and heart to God, the author of beauty himself. I was certainly struck by the quiet composure of everyone present, and despite the number coming forward to receive Holy Communion, an impressive sense of dignity, order and calm prevailed. Congregations of this size will undoubtedly be the exception rather than the rule in St. Walburge’s, but a new and hopeful chapter has now begun for this historical church with a regular routine of daily Mass, recitation of the divine office, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, availability of Confession etc. The Diocese of Lancaster is indebted to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest for their courage and conviction in assuming care for St. Walburge’s. May the Lord bless and prosper their efforts on behalf of his people in Preston and beyond! The excellent and plentiful refreshments on offer afterwards for such a large crowd brought a highly pleasing occasion to a fitting close. Characteristic of the comments I heard afterwards were expressions of pleasure and gratitude that St. Walburge’s would remain open for worship and prayer, and the hope that with the coming of the Institute this hallowed building had received a new lease of life. The Church is indeed alive! Later on Saturday evening I travelled to Kendal to administer the sacrament of Confirmation to seventeen young people from the parish of Holy Trinity & St. George, Kendal, as well as from the Lakes parishes of Ambleside and Windermere. Prior to the conferral of Confirmation I also baptised a young man who was then Confirmed and afterwards received his First Holy Communion. The young people were well prepared for this important moment, and the Kendal Confirmation Mass brought to a close what was for me a remarkable and eventful day, beginning in what is now the shrine church of St. Walburge’s and the hope for the diocese generated there. Until next week – as ever in Christ our Lord,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster (The Photos here in this Blog of the Mass are the property of the Bishop’s Office, Lancaster and may only be used with permission by asking at: email@example.com)