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Royal (Catholic) Happenings in England

Royal (Catholic) Happenings in England
Roman Church service to take place at Henry VIII's chapel for the first time since the king broke with Rome, as Walsingham, once a pilgrimage spot of Henry's, is designated a minor basilica

January 20, 2016

As the new year dawned, news of importance reached Catholic circles in England and abroad: Latin vespers are to take place at Hampton Court, Henry VIII's palace, and the Marian shrine at Walsingham has been declared a minor basilica by Pope Francis.

Music and Goodwill at Hampton Court

Hampton Court Palace stands by the Thames, about half an hour's train ride from London, although it is more agreeably reached by boat; and all the summer through tourists make the trip on large pleasure boats from Westminster.

It has seen much history. On Feb. 9, it will see more. For the first time since Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church in the 16th century, Catholic vespers will be sung, in Latin, in the palace chapel.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, and Dr. Richard Chartres, Anglican bishop of London, will take part in the service, and they will have a public discussion beforehand about the role of Christianity and the crown in Britain. The palace lies in the Catholic Diocese of Westminster and the Anglican Diocese of London.

Hampton Court was Henry VIII's home; he took it from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, his onetime faithful servant, and it was here that his only son, the boy-king Edward VI was born (by Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth). The palace is in a beautiful setting, and it is famous for its maze and for its magnificent state apartments. But its history has not been a happy one, as it was here that the first discussions were held when Henry sought to abandon his wife, Queen Catherine, and embark on what was to become a series of marriages (six in all) that would make him notorious in history.

The Latin vespers will emphasise a message of goodwill and reconciliation. In recent decades, Britain has seen two successful papal visits -- something that would have seemed completely impossible even as late as the 1950s. The state visit of Pope Benedict XVI was particularly remarkable, as it was preceded by a widespread media campaign against him. But from the moment of his arrival, his courtesy, warmth and quiet friendliness made a positive impact -- and by the time he left he had become something of a popular hero, with Prime Minister David Cameron telling him, "You have spoken to a nation with 6 million Catholics, but you have been heard by a nation of 60 million people," in what he described as "an incredibly moving four days." In 2014, Queen Elizabeth II visited Pope Francis at the Vatican, and he gave her a special commemorative cross for little Prince George, the fourth in line to the throne.

Ecumenical discussions between the Catholic Church and the Church of England ran into the ground following the 1992 Anglican decision to ordain women priests, and there is now no possibility of any formal unity. Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining some of their own traditions have done so through the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Beyond this, the emphasis has simply to be on friendship, Christian witness and mutual courtesy.

The vespers at Hampton Court will be in the historic chapel -- dedicated to St. John the Baptist -- with music from two professional groups, the Genesis Foundation and the Choral Foundation. Admission will be by ticket, as many will want to attend. It will be an evening of prayer and music, aimed at ecumenical goodwill in a world full of new challenges.

Walsingham Basilica: 'Sign of Hope'

Something big is happening in Walsingham. This small village in Norfolk, six miles from England's eastern coast, has long had a special significance in the spiritual story of the nation. Now, a new chapter has been added.

Pope Francis has declared Walsingham a minor basilica. It was a dramatic scene, as Bishop Alan Hopes of East Anglia made the announcement at Mass on the feast of the Holy Family in Walsingham, reading aloud a Latin document from Rome.

Applause broke out as, with a sweep of his arms, he included the large modern church, the domain with its Stations of the Cross and the medieval Slipper Chapel, and announced, "All of this is now a minor basilica!"

The rector, Msgr. John Armitage, said that this wonderful news was a tribute to all the people who have worked and prayed at Walsingham over the years, as well as the pilgrims who have come in large numbers from across Britain. "It represents so much of what has been happening in the shrine for so long," Msgr. Armitage said. "It's a recognition by the Holy Father of the long history of this shrine. This is a rare privilege, and it says so much for Walsingham and for the great heart and witness of so many people. This is about history, and faith, and everything that makes up Walsingham."

To understand the importance of this event, it is necessary to see it in the light of 1,000 years of history. It was in the 11th century, when the Holy Land was largely in Muslim hands, that the Saxon lady of the manor of Walsingham had a vision, in which Mary indicated that a replica of the Holy House of Nazareth be built in this place. Nazareth was inaccessible to pilgrims because of the fighting and the dangers there, so pilgrims could go instead to Walsingham. And over the next centuries, they did so, in huge numbers -- Walsingham was the Lourdes of its day, with vast crowds surging there from across Europe, and many cures and miracles reported.

That all ended in 1535, when Henry VIII -- who had himself been an enthusiastic pilgrim at Walsingham only a few years earlier -- crushed the shrine, along with all the abbeys and monasteries of the country, as part of his savage break with the Catholic Church in pursuit of his decision to abandon Queen Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. For years, the shrine was abandoned and in ruins -- until at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th it was revived, partly through the efforts of the local Anglican vicar, who established a shrine in the village, and partly through Catholics, who obtained the old Slipper Chapel and built a shrine there.

Every summer, large pilgrim groups arrive at the Catholic shrine, and adjoining fields are filled with people camping: the National Association of Catholic Families, the youth movement Youth 2000, the big gathering "New Dawn in the Church" and more. Processions weave their way down the lane -- the "Holy Mile" -- singing and praying the Rosary, to the ruined priory in the village, where Mass is said on the wide lawns.

"None of us were aware of this new development until the bishop made the announcement at Mass" said Sister Jane Louise of the Sisters of Our Lady of Reconciliation, who leads youth and educational work at the shrine. "We've all been getting rather emotional about it because it is such a great sign of hope for the future, for the faith in this country. We think that Our Lady is calling people back to this shrine, and now Pope Francis has given this great recognition. We are all hugely looking forward to this coming pilgrimage season."

The Sisters of Reconciliation are former Anglican sisters who came into full communion with the Catholic Church through the formation of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010; Bishop Hopes is also himself a former Anglican -- Christian reconciliation as work with the help of Providence.

There was laughter as, at the end of the announcement about the basilica, Bishop Hopes added the official information that the rector of the shrine was now entitled to wear a black mozzetta (investment cape) with red piping.

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