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St Thomas Becket

A Hungarian-minded colleague kindly invited me to Westminster Cathedral for an extraordinary event which might otherwise have passed me by. A relic (a small bone fragment) of St Thomas Becket was visiting England from Esztergom, which is the seat of the Hungarian Catholic Church. It would be temporarily reunited with a few other remains of the martyred saint before returning ‘home’ to Hungary. After myself returning home following the celebratory Mass, the most frequently asked question was “how did the bone get to Hungary in the first place?” It’s probably better to turn to the internet, as I did, for the answer.

The tiny relic was displayed in a beautiful sculpture (reliquary) on the altar. I wondered how the large congregation would behave towards it – the answer was, politely and with restraint. This was a very grand Mass indeed, prefaced by Vespers; an impressive number of Cardinals’ mitres and red robes filled the front of the Cathedral. Most striking to me, however, was the lengthy Latin liturgy, and the congregation’s mastery of it – rattling off even obscure additions such as the appropriate ‘Preface of Holy Martyrs’. Sitting (and standing and kneeling) amongst a large group of people who normally speak either English or Hungarian, the usefulness of Latin became obvious. I am aware that the discussion about the use of Latin liturgy is extremely complex and has rumbled on ever since the 1960s when it was generally proscribed. But as an outsider to this event, I thought it sounded beautiful - spare and mysterious - especially on this occasion in the company of music by sometime Catholic composers Byrd, Tallis and Philips.




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