A celebration marking the centenary of the founding of Brentwood Diocese on 22 March saw church leaders remember those affected by the terrorist attack in London earlier in the day.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, Bishop Alan Williams sm of Brentwood Diocese and Bishop Roger Morris, Anglican Bishop of Colchester, all said their thoughts and prayers were with those who had died or been injured and their grieving families.

The evening Mass in Brentwood marked the formation of the Diocese, which sprang from its parent Westminster 100 years ago. It took place in a brightly-lit Brentwood Cathedral, packed with people. Local dignitaries included the Mayors of Brentwood, Southend, Rochford, Chelmsford, Epping and Castle Point, the High Sheriff, the Lord Lieutenant ‒ Lord Petre – MPs Sir David Amess and Andrew Rosindell, and Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh.  Religious leaders from other denominations joined the Cardinal, Archbishops George Stack and Peter Smith, numerous bishops from around the country and as far away as South Africa, diocesan priests and parishioners. Bishop Alan Williams wore the mitre of Bishop Ward, the first Bishop of Brentwood who was enthroned on 7 November 1917, and carried his crozier for the service.  He began by voicing his concern for all those affected by the Westminster attack: “They are all very much in our prayers,” he said. Bishop Alan then welcomed those present to the celebration, and in particular expressed his pleasure at seeing Anglican Bishop of Bradwell John Wraw,  and thanked Bishop Graham Rose, who had made the journey from Brentwood’s twinned Diocese of Dundee in South Africa.

In his homily (Brentwood Diocese Centenary 22-3-17 (2)Cardinal’s homily ) Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, recalled Pope Francis’ words to young people: “If you want to be people of hope, then go home and talk to your grandparents – they have the memory of history, the experience of living, and this is a great gift that will help you in your life’s journey.”  He continued: “As we celebrate the centenary of the Diocese, we look to our grandparents in faith. We look to them with gratitude for all they have done in establishing this Diocese, and in nurturing the faith of Catholics in East London and in Essex.”  He chose this moment to pay particular tribute to the Petre family, which has made a significant contribution to the Diocese – and the Catholic Church over the centuries.

The Cardinal talked about memories of the Diocese, its bishops, priests and people which “provide the context for our celebration: they must not be forgotten but used to help us in our responsibility for the continued flourishing of the Catholic faith in this part of the world”.

Referring to the readings, he said: “This Gospel command (Mt 28:19-20) is that we are to live as ‘missionary disciples’, while the second reading from St Paul gives us clues on how to do it. Discerning what our particular giftedness may be and how to put that to service is essential to a healthy Church.”

He said that faith finds a most eloquent expression when it is grounded in the real circumstance of life. “Action is the test of our faith.”  If we are to spread the Good News for the next hundred years, said the Cardinal, we must heed this call to the practical witness of faith.

Prayer is not an optional extra, however. “Practicality and prayer are two sides of the same coin: if one spreads faith, the other nurtures faith within us. Together they help us to see our responsibilities within a context so vast as to be eternal.”

He concluded: “The praise of God is rooted in thankfulness for the past and hope for the future. In 100 years an entirely new group of people will be gathered here, please God, for the bicentenary of the Diocese of Brentwood. We pray that we, our children and grandchildren in faith may be worthy successors of those whose memory we celebrate and on whose witness we undertake to build.”

After Communion, the congregation heard a message from Pope Francis, read by Mgr Matteo de Mori, and one from Bishop Stephen Cottrell, the head of Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford, read by Bishop Roger Morris, the Anglican Bishop of Colchester.

Pope Francis sent his good wishes to all in the Diocese. “As you reflect on the many graces bestowed by God upon the Diocese, His Holiness prays that you may be drawn ever more deeply into a loving relationship with the Eternal Word made Flesh and experience anew the original freshness of the Gospel. In this way, your celebration will not only recall your Diocesan past but will serve to renew all of you and future generations as bearers of God’s truth, mercy and love to those whom you encounter.”

Bishop Stephen referred to the friendship and partnership that exists between two dioceses, which uniquely share the same boundaries. “I believe God has laid upon us a particular responsibility to walk together and work towards that Christian unity that is Christ’s prayer for his Church. As you celebrate your centenary, I pray that in the middle of Lent you may catch a glimpse of Easter glory, celebrating the many blessings you have received and asking the Holy Spirit to lead you into a new and exciting future.”

Bishop Morris then went on to speak off the cuff about the terrorist attack in London: “Just as our two dioceses came into being at a time of war and bloodshed, events remind us that our work is not yet done.  As Pope Francis reminds us, we must be artisans of reconciliation and instruments of peace.”

Music at the Mass was conducted by Andrew Wright, Director of Music, with Stephen King and James Devor at the organ. The trumpeters were Sam Lewis and Stephen Peneycad.

Pictures by Graham Hillman

Listen to excerpts from the service below:

Opening hymn
Bishop Alan’s introduction
First reading
Second reading
Gospel reading
Cardinal Nichols’ homily
Communion Hymn
Ave Regina Caelorum
Te Deum

Director of Music, Andrew Wright says: ‘Due to logistical difficulties we could not include the Te Deum from the Mass. It was re-recorded at the following Wednesday Choral Vespers at the Cathedral. The performers are 12 singers from the Cathedral Choir. The Organ Improvisations on the chant are composed and performed by James Devor (Assistant Organist). It serves as a truly wonderful hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the Diocesan Centenary Year!’


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