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Inaugural pair

28 March 2013


JUST like the bus, you wait for ages for the inauguration of a worldwide Christian leader, and then two come at once. Other pens will no doubt dwell on the liturgical and ecclesiological comparisons between The Mass for the Inauguration of Pope Francis and The Enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I might add my reflections on what their televising (both BBC2, Tuesday and Thursday of last week respectively) reveals about the two Communions.

It is by no means a straight comparison: at Canterbury, the event had been meticulously planned, whereas in Rome the BBC was not even using its own film, but giving us a commentary over images provided by RAI. In both cases, an anchorman invited a team of three experts to discuss what was happening.

This provided a clear contrast. In Canterbury, Bishop Nigel McCulloch, Christina Rees, and Canon Giles Fraser were ensconced in a cosy side chapel, which, strangely, felt at some remove from the actual event; in Rome, Archbishop Peter Smith, Joanna Moorhead, and Professor Eamon Duffy were overlooking the piazza - they were so much part of the action that you could hardly hear their concluding comments because of the jangling of the bells.

The Roman commentators presented an extraordinary parallel to one of the characteristics of their Church: the female member was afforded far less time to speak than the men, and, in a remarkably symbolic act, was provided with a microphone that did not work.

In Canterbury, the initial discussion was an irritating distraction. One of the points about such great services is who turns up to them, and we have a great tradition of offering significant clues to the ministry being inaugurated by seeing who has been invited. It would have been good to watch who was processing in, and be told about the extraordinary diversity they represented; but all this was missed.

This brings me to my mantra on these occasions: the commentator Huw Edwards is simply not up to the job. He is enthusiastic, and means well, but I never get the impression that he knows what he is talking about. The most startling element in both broadcasts was the openness of the concluding commentary in Rome: it was extraordinary to hear such explicit acknowledgement of how deep a mess the Roman Catholic Church is in, and how radical are the reforms that Pope Francis must undertake.

The need for Archbishop Welby to tackle problems in both Church of England and Anglican Communion paled by comparison with the impassioned debate going on in Rome. The service at Canterbury presented an admirable shop-window for the range of Archbishop Welby's concerns and sympathies, and the ease with which the C of E incorporates traditional and modern, highly structured and informal.

In one crucial respect, however, Rome won out: at Canterbury, there were many admirable words about Jesus, but at the Vatican he was actually there, present on the altar. Watching the two broadcasts, the omission was incontrovertible: why was our worship not eucharistic? If you want to go on about Jesus, you might as well do what he told you to do.

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