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2799: Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool
Liverpool RC Cathedral
Photo: Chowells and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Church Mouse.
The church: Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Liverpool.
The building: A modern cathedral, begun in 1962 and consecrated in 1967. It is the work of British architect Frederick Gibberd, known for his planned communities and innovative design for flats. Gibberd's design represents the fourth attempt to build a Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool, and incorporates the crypt from an earlier unfinished building. The design has sparked some controversy – shortcuts taken during construction resulted in structural flaws that had to be corrected later at great expense. The cathedral is known disparagingly by some as Paddy's Wigwam or the Mersey Funnel. A slab-like campanile holds four bells, nicknamed George, John, Paul and Ringo for rather obvious reasons. The circular interior is somewhat more successful than the exterior. There is a central altar and concentric seating, with side chapels opening off the circumference of the circle. Colourful stained glass and wall hangings abound.
The church: This is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Liverpool. They sponsor an art studio where workers repair hangings, banners and vestments not only for the cathedral, but also for churches from around England. A Guild of Guides welcome visitors to the cathedral and conduct tours. The cathedral also offers itself for hire for special services, banquets and dinners, exhibitions, conferences and meetings.
The neighbourhood: Built on the site of a former workhouse, the cathedral is high above the city of Liverpool and looks along Hope Street to the Anglican cathedral. This is also the University area of Liverpool.
The cast: The celebrant was the Rt Revd Malcolm McMahon, OP, Archbishop of Liverpool. He was assisted by the Revd Canon Anthony O'Brien, dean of the cathedral, and by other cathedral clergy.
The date & time: Nativity of the Lord, 25 December 2014, 12.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Midnight Mass.

How full was the building?
The main area was about half full as the service started (the cathedral seats 2,000) and about two-thirds full by the time of the communion. Two balconies, however, were full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Ushers at the door handed out notices as we arrived and said hello. Later in the service an elderly lady behind us decided to take us under her wing – more about here in a moment.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seating comprises curved wooden benches around the central altar. There is a gap between the seat and the back, and the lady in front had brought a cushion to fill that gap. There were kneelers for the prayers. However, the lady in front didn't kneel but the helpful lady behind did, so I was kneeling with nowhere to rest my elbows or balance.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet hubbub. We were early as we'd overestimated how long it would take us to find and walk to the cathedral. The choir practised for the first half hour, including young choristers singing from one of the balconies. For the second half hour there was continuing quiet hubbub, with others chatting as they arrived and the cathedral bells ringing. The ladies behind us, after they'd greeted each other and reorganised their seating, expressed irritation at the amount of chat going on.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
During the procession, the introit (from Psalm 2) for Midnight Mass was chanted in Latin: "Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu; ego hodie genui te." ("The Lord said to me: You are my son; this day I have begotten you.") The first spoken words by the Archbishop were: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Twenty page printed leaflet with the words of the carols, responses with some musical notation, and readings all included. The psalm translation was from Psalms: A New Translation; other books referenced were the Jerusalem Bible and the English translation of the Roman Missal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an opus of JW Walker & Sons dating from 1967, with casework by Gibberd.

Did anything distract you?
The building is fantastic, so much to see everywhere. There were two Christmas trees with white lights flanking the altar, one of which looked as if the lights were suspended without support as that bit of tree was very thin.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a full Roman Catholic mass with incense, choral settings for both the congregation and the choir. The choir chanted in Latin and sang anthems both in Latin and English: Adeste Fideles; Hodie Christus Natus Est; In the Bleak Midwinter; the stunningly beautiful O Magnum Mysterium of Morton Lauridsen, etc.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Archbishop spoke well: a direct and clear message for the time and place.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Midnight mass is difficult for those who don't like the night shift. For many there is something sinister about darkness; we talk about people having something of the night about them. The shepherds came from the darkness, they were on the margins. Jesus came in the dark and departed in the dark. He was there for the dispossessed and lost. He brought light to the darkness. So should we Christians.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was amazing, especially as we heard it rehearsed beforehand. The choristers sang Hodie Christus Natus Est after the gospel and before the sermon, from high up on a balcony and from behind the congregation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lady behind being "helpful" but really trying to make us fit her idea of what we should be doing. And I'm afraid the Archbishop's singing wasn't all that tuneful as he started the responses.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a surge for the doors that carried us along. We were swept past a member of clergy, who shook a hand, and out of the doors into the night.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Just as well, as we needed to get back to where we were staying.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – The sheer size of the building and impersonal nature of the service would make me unsure of attending here on a regular basis. Also, I am not Roman Catholic although my companion is.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, to see so many people there.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That amazing building full of people.
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