St Mary’s apostolate is that which is totally unique to the city-centre. The city-centre parish is quite different from the inner-city parish, the suburban parish or the country parish. Of course, folk will come from all such parishes into the city-centre, not only from the Greater Manchester parishes but from parishes throughout the country, indeed from parishes throughout the world.
In the 200 plus years The Hidden Gem has been serving the people of Manchester, a great deal has changed. The poorest of slum dwellings surrounding the church have been replaced by the tall office buildings of the new commercial centre of Manchester. In recent years, the rapid regeneration of the city centre with its many and varied amenties and facilities has revitalised the old victorian heart of the city.
Through all these changes one thing remains: the mission of St. Mary’s to the people of Manchester has remained constant, whether they live in, work in, or just visit the city centre. Every day there is free access to the church which is valued as an oasis of peace in the heart of the City’s life.
A significant apostolate at St Mary’s is the daily Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and hearing the confessions. ‘Train, bus and plane’ make Manchester’s centre easy to approach from near and far. It is a destination for “off days”, and a tourist stop-over, for many people around the region and from around the world.
The church is open during the day for quiet prayer and daily Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and prayer of Rosary before Mass makes St Mary’s a uniquely contemplative oasis.
Daily and seasonal devotions
The attendance at daily Mass is uniformly excellent. As is the attendance at Sunday Mass. At both, but especially at weekends, there are visitors from around the country and from around the world. The homily is preached at all the Masses, weekdays and weekends.
Every weekday in Lent at lunchtime, after the lunchtime mass, the Stations of the Cross are celebrated. During Lent, there is too a preached Mission.
During Advent the Schools Advent Carol Services every weekday after the lunchtime Mass help to deepen the preparation for Christmas; as do the special frequent opportunities for confession that are given in addition to the set weekly times.
The pre-Reformation title of “Our Lady of Manchester” was restored in St Mary’s in the mid 1800s with the establishment of the Shrine of Our Lady of Manchester . Every day, at lunchtime, the Rosary is recited.
Adams’ Stations of the Cross
As a nationally acclaimed major work of art the Adams Stations of the Cross are attracting many visitors, of whom a considerable number are non-Catholics.
Sister Wendy Beckett, who considers them “a miracle of art”, said that many folk would come over the years to view the pictures as great art, and would through them “find the Lord”. This has happened already, to my knowledge, again and again.
All kinds of groups, large and small, are continually coming to study them. These include the likes of the theology department of Durham University, the fine arts department of Manchster University, the art departments of Lancaster University and Newcastle University, the patrons and friends of the Whitworth Art Gallery, the Manchester Art Gallery and the London Royal Academy of Arts.
When Sir Philip Dowson, the President of the Royal Academy of Arts, opened their exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1995, he said; “Is it not wonderful, at the end of this century, that our minds are being raised by the greatest of modern art to Our Lord’s saving passion ?”
He also said then that he would come to see them in situ. This he did in 1997. When he entered the church and viewed them, he was so moved that he wept. He said the setting was perfect. Before he left, he told the Lord Mayor of Manchester that the City must recognise the treasure it had in the Adams Stations of the Cross in St Mary’s.
Such recognition has been given too by the likes of the Queen Mother, the Duchess of Kent, Richard Harries, the former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, the Rt. Hon Christopher Patten, Sir Stephen Tumin, to name a few.