News from around the Archdiocese of Liverpool


Throughout the month of December many thousands of people young and old will attend one of the many carol or memorial services at the Cathedral hosted by various charities or organisations in the lead up to Christmas.  For some it may be the only time that they will attend church over the Advent/Christmas period and each year one of our principal aims in December is to try to offer as warm a welcome to visitors as we can and encouragement to join us for services over Christmas itself.


Along with the celebrations of Mass for the First Sunday of Advent we mark the change of season with a special Advent Sequence service of readings and music at 5.00 pm on the first Sunday in December.  The ‘Celebration of Christmas’, is a night of carols and Christmas favourites for all the family featuring BBC Radio Merseyside’s Roger Phillips and the choirs of the Cathedral and is on Saturday 15 December at 7.00 pm.  We also have our Traditional Festival Carol Service at 5.00 pm on the evening of the final Sunday of Advent, 23 December- the next best thing to Carols at Kings College, with room for all and free.


First Vespers of Christmas and Blessing of the Crib is at 3.00 pm on Christmas Eve marking the beginning of the celebrations for the Feast of Christmas.  Archbishop Malcolm will celebrate the First Mass of Christmas at Midnight.  Thankfully this will not be broadcast this year so I’m looking forward to a calmer stress-free celebration.  We have a number of Masses on Christmas morning, my own favourite celebration of the Feast is the Christmas Day Mass at 11.00 am with lots of families in attendance, the beautiful Prologue from St John as the Gospel Reading and the choir in full voice before their Christmas break.


I hope you all have a happy and blessed Christmas.


A blast from Christmas past: the Nativity play


by Neil Sayer, Archdiocesan archivist


I remember the Nativity. Not, of course, the stable in Bethlehem, but the one on the stage in the school hall, cobbled together by creative teachers. Those were days of frenzied activity by children manufacturing donkeys’ heads and fashioning timeless Middle Eastern costumes – in my case, from the contents of the ottoman in my parents’ bedroom.


I remember the rivalries as Mary was selected, less feisty than some I’ve seen recently – and usually chosen for her ability to sit still for long periods. My own mother, I’m sure, would have wangled a morning off work to see my star comic turn as the innkeeper.


At six, though, I don’t think I was aware that the venerable tradition of the Nativity play stretches back centuries. It probably has its origins in the medieval mystery plays held from time to time in cities such as Chester and York. These were ways of explaining Bible stories to the local folk who were largely unable to read the original text themselves. Many stories were dramatised and produced by craft guilds and other associations, often hammering home the moral and religious purpose.  

Quite how the Nativity morphed into a school play is not clear, but it seems likely to have been connected with the increase in the number of schools during the late 19th Century. Perhaps Victorian school teachers were using their pupils to provide religious education to illiterate working class parents?


The earliest reference to a Nativity play so far found in the Archdiocesan archives dates only from the 1930s. But by the time the Catholic Pictorial was launched in 1962, the Nativity seems to have become a well-established event in the school calendar. That allowed our photographers to record costumed casts up and down Lancashire and throughout Liverpool, and the editions published in December and January might well feature a younger version of you.


This photograph shows the children of St James’s Infant School at Orrell, near Wigan, as featured in our issue from 23 December 1979. The school’s head at that time was Mr Doherty.

Back copies of the Catholic Pictorial may be seen by appointment in the reading room of the Archdiocesan Archives at the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Cathedral Record

Celebration of Christmas’, is a night of carols and Christmas favourites

005 Dean Tony O'Brien 3 Priest in uniform[1] Nativity