A special on-line newsletter as we come to the days of Holy Week.
I would very much wish to be with you on these Holy Days, celebrating the mysteries of the Passion and death of the Lord in our Church, but it is not possible this year.
On this day we commemorate the Last Supper. We think of the Lord sharing in the Jewish Paschal Meal with his apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. At the end of the meal, he took the bread and wine and said the words of consecration for the first time – and gave them to the apostles. So, on this day we give thanks for the gift of the Eucharist – and for a priest, it is a special day, remembering how we have been ordained and given the power to celebrate the Sacraments.
At the Mass, we wash the feet of some of the people of the parish – women and men – young and old – a hard task as the years go on and I rely on the servers to help me – usually a small gift for those who share in this – I have them waiting on the shelf – but not possible to give them out this year.
At the end of the Mass, we transfer the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose and the Sanctuary is stripped of all its ornaments – the tabernacle is left open without its curtains and the Sanctuary lamp is put out. The Sacristy is full of candle sticks and altar clothes, lectionaries and missals – but he Sanctuary itself is left without anything, the altar stark and cold.
On this evening we think of the Lord and the disciples going to the Garden of Gethsemane, of the Lord overwhelmed with fear, as he waits for the soldiers to come to arrest him and for the events of the Passion to unfold.
Many of us would be gathering on the heath in the morning, for the service shared by all the Churches in the area. It always seems to be a bright and blustery morning. But this year it is not possible.
In the afternoon there would normally be the solemn liturgy starting at 3pm. We would read the account of the passion of the Lord taken from John’s gospel. A special feature of this account is the strange dialogue between the Lord and Pilate, the Roman Governor.
After the gospel we read the special prayers and venerate the image of the cross. Then the altar is covered with a temporary clothe and we receive the Eucharist.
There are no services in the Church on this day – but a lot work restoring everything and preparing for the Vigil and the Easter Masses.
One of my special tasks is to prepare the fire in the garden – using the old wood that has fallen from the trees during the winter and adding some fire lighters to ensure that there is a splendid blaze.
We bless the paschal candle, marking it with a cross and the numbers of the year and adding the five grains of incense which represent the five wounds of the Lord.
The candle leads the procession into the darkened Church and its light is the sign of the Lord, rising from the tomb, and bring light and life to a darkened world.
The candle is placed in a special place in the Sanctuary and will remain there until Ascension Day as a sign of the Risen Lord remaining with his Church.
We sing the Exultet, the solemn Easter hymn which proclaims the Resurrection of the Lord.
Then the lessons from Scripture with the psalms leading to the beginning of the Easter Mass.
We bless the Water in the font and renew our baptismal promises and share in the celebration of the solemn Mass of Easter.
Maybe at the end the choir will sing the Alleluia chorus.
These are memories of the ceremonies that in the past we have celebrated year by year.
But this year – it is not possible. I will be celebrating a simplified version on my own in the Church, thinking and praying for you all at this time and joined with you in Spirit. I think of those of you who need special prayers at this time: the sick, the elderly, those who mourn – and all of us who have been at least in a small way, knocked off balance by the events of recent weeks. Pray that the virus will come to an end and we can pick up the threads of our normal prayers and daily lives once again.
Prayers and best wishes to you all
Monsignor Nicholas Rothon