This month’s “Window” is coming out two days before Holy Week. I have no idea how Holy Week will be celebrated, other than the fact that we will do what the Church has done for at least 1700 years. An early account of Holy Week in Jerusalem is recorded by the holy nun, Egeria in the early 4th century. She describes, among other things, the the commemoration of the Last Supper in the Upper Room, the veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday, and the great celebration of Easter in the night of Holy Saturday/Easter Day. If Egeria came to Holy Trinity Church (or, indeed, to any church which proclaims the Catholic Faith) then she would recognise the events taking place.
There is always the danger, particularly for clergy, servers and singers to get so involved in the drama of Holy Week (not to mention the occasional problems and sheer amount of hard graft getting everything in place) as to lose sight of what it is all about. I mentioned in last month’s magazine that the hour of prayer before the Lenten masses has been a real bonus for those who have taken part. In addition, for me, the reading of Brother Ramon’s book “When they crucified my Lord.” has been an opportunity to be fed. It has been, in effect, an extended Holy Week throughout Lent, thus releasing me to allow the worship of Holy Week to “do its own thing”. Holy Week is essentially visual – as were the events of that Week. The entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the cleansing of the Temple, the washing of the disciples feet, the taking of bread and wine during the Last Supper – all these are visual things. Yes, there are words but it is the ACTIONS which are central. Good Friday IS the carrying of the Cross. It IS Mary and John standing at the foot of the Cross. It IS Joseph of Arimathea (and friends) taking the body down and rolling the stone across the tomb. It IS running with Pteter, James and John to the tomb and finding it empty – or weeping with Mary and hearing your name. Apart from the incense, the one thing missing from any re-enactment of the events of Holy Week, is the smell or smells. Anyone visiting a Mediterranean country will be conscious of the smell of the soil, the perfume of the olive groves, the odour of scorched earth. I remember the long hot summer in 1977. Although I had never been to the Med. I recognised the same smell of the earth when I visited Malta and, later, Cyprus.
We have had two thousand years of coming to a deeper understanding of the events of Holy Week, yet I will never forget waiting at the bus-stop to get to my church on Easter Day. The curate’s wife was on her way to my brother’s church for mass and shouted across the road, “Good morning, Brian. Christ is risen!” I shouted back, “He is risen, indeed!” In a sense, we experience again the great events as they happen – but in 2018. The fifty days of Eastertide then give us the opportunity to ponder, like Mary, on what we have experienced.
When the sadly missed Harry Reeves made his first appearance at mass, he said to me afterwards, “It’s sort of modern medieval.” A more recent visitor asked if there was a danger of simply recreating an out-of-date way of worshipping. There is always that danger – as there is the danger in more up-to-date churches of forgetting that we have a Christian past as well as present. The reason we have the Bible, Creeds and Councils is to keep us grounded in the “faith once delivered through the apostles”. We Christians are always in danger of wallowing in nostalgia. When S. Cyprian’s Clarence Gate (near Baker Street, London) was consecrated at the beginning of the last century it was strewed with rushes and herbs in the manner of churches in rural Norfolk in the 15th century. In central London! (Sir Ninian Comper’s S. Cyprian’s was described as Norfolk loftiness in the heart of London by Sir John Betjeman. It contains a wonderful “Majestas” “Christ in glory” which inspired our own Majestas. (By the way, that word is pronounced “Mai-estas” – as Father Antony Symondson pronounced it when correcting my pronunciation over the telephone. Ouch!)
We have been blessed this Holy Week with the presence of John Dixon from S. George’s Newcastle. He is exploring the possibility of ordination and The Reverend Pauline Shelton (who shares in directing possible ordinands – those seeking ordination) decided to send him to us to experience Lent and Holy Week. S. George’s is a very different tradition to Holy Trinity and I hope and pray that the experience is enriching rather than overwhelming. Having written that, shouldn’t we be overwhelmed by the glorious events we seek to set forth?
On that note, may I commend the film “Risen” to you. Everyone seems to have Netflix and other forms of film streaming. It is a fictional portrayal of the death and resurrection of Our Lord as experienced through the eyes of a Roman tribune. Occasionally sentimental, and missing out the fact that Jewish Christians were very slow to welcome Gentiles into their fold, it is the only decent attempt to depict the Resurrection that I know. Come and watch it after mass on the Wednesday in Easter week. (Cars will take people home after dark.)