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A visible and constant presence

by Paul Moynihan

It is not easy to write about Cardinal Cormac: just where do you start with this giant of the Church in all senses of the word? While he may have only been Archbishop of Westminster from 2000 to 2009, he has been a visible presence long before and after. I suppose that I first heard the name when reading the press coverage of Archbishop Basil Hume’s creation as Cardinal. Mgr Cormac, then the Rector of the Venerable English College, met the Cardinal-elect at the airport and hosted him during his stay in Rome. It was some years later that I met him in person on several occasions when,as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, he confirmed nephews and a niece in ceremonies at Worth Abbey.

I remember well his installation as Archbishop of Westminster. He arrived in the sacristy that morning with a look of a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. Who can blame him as he faced head on the immensity of the great office he had been called to? And then there was that near-fall from the throne steps (I was by the credence table at the time and saw it closer than most) nearly landing on Canon Scholes, which guaranteed its place on that week’s edition of BBC’s ‘Have I got news for you’.

Amongst his liturgical legacies are several of the now-largest attended and popular annual Masses in the cathedral diary. The Mass for Migrants on the May Day Bank holiday draws hundreds in national dress for a real celebration of cultures and customs. Then, on the eve of Pentecost, Cardinal Cormac introduced the annual Mass for the celebration of Matrimony, at which married couples particularly marking significant anniversaries renew their commitment to each other. Many other dioceses have copied this idea, so successful it has been.

He really loved this cathedral, presiding frequently. He also loved his Titular Church in Rome, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, assigned to him the day he was created a Cardinal in 2001. In 2014 I was privileged, along with a few other cathedral servers, to look after him at a Mass he celebrated there the night before Cardinal Vincent was created a Cardinal. He managed while vesting before Mass to lose his red skull cap, much to his dismay, but laughed afterwards when we found it had been caught underneath his alb all along.

His last public visit to the cathedral was on 4th July when we welcomed our new Papal Nuncio, but Cardinal Cormac’s last public words were spoken here on 27th May when he assisted Bishop John Wilson in a Deanery Confirmation Mass, during which he confirmed his great niece. At the end of this Mass, having asked Bishop John’s permission, he spoke for a few minutes of his great love for Holy Mother Church, encouraging those newly-confirmed to be also strong in their faith. I sensed then that this might be the last time that he would speak here. There was none of his trademark humour on this occasion. These were serious but wise final words, spoken in love.

Paul Moynihan is the Cardinal’s Master of Ceremonies at Westminster Cathedral

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