Every Liverpudlian calls it Paddy’s Wigwam or the Mersey Funnel or some such name, so any southerner who thinks it is clever and rude to do so massively misses the point: Liverpool Cathedral is a big construction with a funnel on top and it can pack in vast numbers of people for Mass and that’s that. It was filled to capacity twice this morning for the Eucharistic Congress, and after the second of these Masses we streamed out in a great procession, bearing the Blessed Sacrament through the streets.
And the Lord caused rain to fall – great, grey steady sheets of it. We were all completely soaked. The long, long column of priests in white vestments, the men carrying the huge golden embroidered canopy, the Papal Knights and Dames in robes, and above all the vast congress of people – and we all just marched on, drenched and united.
It really was glorious. It was the most powerful Catholic gathering in Britain since Pope Benedict XVI’s magnificent visit in 2010, and had something of the same atmosphere. There was unity, prayer, and peace – and great reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, a real understanding of the reality of the Lord’s presence among us. There was a poignancy about it all, too: Archbishop McMahon had reminded us in his homily that we should have a spirit of penitence following the grim revelations of sin in the Church, and the rain seemed to echo that.
A priest near me began singing “Sweet Sacrament Divine” in a fine voice and we all joined in, and went steadily from hymn to hymn. We found it increasingly difficult to use the booklets provided, because the soaked pages stuck together – but the hymns were all those that we know well anyway.
The route took us back to the cathedral: as the Blessed Sacrament was brought up that great flight of steps beneath the bell tower, the sun came out and Benediction took place in a sort of radiance.
It was intensely moving: the Tantum Ergo rising to Heaven, and a great roar of voices repeating the Divine Praises. Cardinal Nichols and a great phalanx of our Bishops, a great monstrance held high and a blessing descending….and then, as things came to an end, the cathedral bells ringing out, and a sense of something powerful having happened.
There has only ever been one previous Eucharistic Congress in Britain: it was 110 years ago and since then we have had two world wars, lost an empire, and been through massive social changes of a kind unimaginable in 1908. In Liverpool in 2018, with sunshine breaking through after rain and on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, we have humbly entrusted our future to the Lord who holds us all in his great heart. .