29 May 2013

Africa’s first woman bishop visits Ireland

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town at her consecration … she preaches in Dublin this evening (Photograph: AFP/Anglican Church of Swaziland)

Patrick Comerford

Africa’s first Anglican woman bishop is in Ireland this week to join the celebrations marking the rebranding of the Anglican mission agency, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG), as the United Society – Us.

The new Bishop of Swaziland, the Right Revd Ellinah Wamukoya, will preach at a special Eucharist in Saint Michan’s Church, Dublin, at 7.30 this evening [Wednesday 29 May 2013].

Bishop Ellinah was consecrated last November and her visit to Ireland this week is her first official trip overseas.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, will preside at the Eucharist. Earlier in the afternoon, there is an open house to mark the opening of the new Us offices in Egan House, beside Saint Michan’s Church in Church Street, Dublin.

I serve on the boards of Us, the former USPG, in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and on the council of Us in Britain. This Anglican mission agency works in direct partnership with Anglican Churches in over 50 countries, helping to support vital work, including healthcare, education, leadership training and action for social justice.

Us in Ireland works directly with the Diocese of Swaziland, where we have been building up strong networks over the last five years working with all members of the community.

The Anglican Church in Swaziland works to respond to the huge difficulties faced by the country. However, the Church there has few resources and currently relies on overseas donations to run its programmes which include local care points and feeding stations for the many child-headed households. Training in life skills is also provided for young people.

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya (61) is the first Anglican bishop in Africa. Her election came last November – just as the Church of England failed to vote in favor women becoming bishops.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town said at the time of her election: “We have witnessed a great occasion, and now it does indeed seem that the heavens are about to fall upon us – the falling of rain, which this country and its people so desperately need.”

Bishop Wamukoya is a former mayor of Swaziland’s economic capital, Manzini, and has worked as town planner. During her visit to Ireland she is meeting the staff and board members of Us, bishops of the Church of Ireland, and supporting parishes throughout the island.

Rebranding USPG as Us at the annual conference at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, last year

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28 May 2013

Lunch for two writers … and some Victorian remnants

Sunshine and reflections on the Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

It was a surprise and an unexpected pleasure to have lunch this afternoon with the American writer and editor Jamie Clarke Chavez, who is visiting Ireland for a family wedding.

We had lunch in Damascus Gate, a Lebanese restaurant near Kelly’s Corner in Camden Street, and had a wide ranging conversation that included mutual friends, walks on the beach in Laytown, Christian publishing and blogging.

At lunch with the writer Jamie Clarke Chavez in Damascus Gate

It was also a surprise and an unexpected pleasure to find some summer sunshine after lunch this afternoon. So, instead of immediately catching a bus, I took a stroll through Portobello, past George Bernard Shaw’s birthplace in Synge Street (so appropriate after a writers’ lunch), the Dublin Jewish Museum in Walworth Road, and the old Methodist chapel that later served as the now-closed Women’s Labour Exchange, all in the old ‘Little Jerusalem’ area that has inspired the name of Damascus Gate, and then along the banks of the Grand Canal as far as Harold’s Cross Bridge.

George Bernard Shaw’s birthplace in Synge Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

There were no swans in the Canal at Harold’s Cross, but the sun was shining so brightly on the water it was easy to imagine there were blue skies above and the summer might just be on the way.

A secret Venetian-style balcony in Harold’s Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I walked on as far as Harold’s Cross, spotting unusual Victorian-era, Venetian-style balconies in a pair of houses opposite the Hospice, and wondered why a nearby Victorian letter box in a convent wall was closed up.

A neglected Victorian post box in Harold’s Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

These Victorian letter boxes are a century and a half old, yet An Post seems to have free hand in neglecting this part of Dublin’s history and heritage.

The sun was shining on Harold’s Cross Green, and I reminded myself that at some stage I must look at how these suburban green space was purloined in Victorian times from the Vicars Choral of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and passed into the hands of Rathimes Township and then into the hands of Dublin Corporation.

But the 49 bus arrived and made this a task for another day.

The sun shines at the Green in Harold’s Cross this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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A quiet afternoon in Cong, the village of ‘The Quiet Man’

Pat Cohan’s Bar … the location for many of the scenes in ‘The Quiet Man’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

On the way back from Ballinrobe on Sunday afternoon [26 May 2013], I stopped to see the village of Cong on the edges of Connemara and on border between Co Galway and Co Mayo.

Cong is best known for Ashford Castle and as the location for The Quiet Man. But Cong is also known for its fishing, for Ashford Castle, built by the Guinness family Abbey and now a five-star luxury hotel, as the burial place of Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, and the Cross of Cong, a metal cross shrine now exhibited in the National Museum in Dublin.

Cong (Conga or Cúnga Fheichín, Saint Feichin’s Narrows) stands on an island formed by many streams that surround it on all sides, and on an isthmus that connects Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, Cong is known for its underground streams that connect Lough Corrib with Lough Mask to the north. It was also the home of Sir William Wilde, historian and father to the writer Oscar Wilde.

Ashford Castle, now a five-star hotel, was built on the shores of Lough Corrib by Sir Benjamin Guinness. He also restored Cong Abbey, built Saint Mary’s, a new Church of Ireland parish church, laid out many of the tree-lined and forest walks, and planned the three-mile Cong Canal in the 1850s in a failed attempt to link Lough Corrib and Lough Mask as part of a safe transport link between Sligo and Galway.

The cloisters of Cong Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Everywhere in the village there are reminders that Cong was the location for John Ford’s 1952 Oscar-winning film, The Quiet Man, located in the fictional village of Inisfree: the Quiet Man, the Quiet Man Museum and Gift Shop, Pat Cohan’s Bar, Danagher’s Hotel, Squire Danagher’s Bar, Michaeleen Oge Flynn’s House and the Isle of Inisfree, offering daily cruises on Lough Corrib

The movie, starring John Wayne (Sean Thornton), Maureen O’Hara (Mary Kate Danagher), Victor McLagen (Squire ‘Red’ Will Danagher) and Barry Fitzgerald (the matchmaker Michaeleen Oge Flynn), was filmed in Cong and in the grounds of Ashford Castle in 1951. Since then, the town and castle have changed little, and The Quiet Man has made Cong a major tourist destination for the last six decades.

The Quiet Man was based on a short story by Maurice Walsh first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933. The cinematography by Winton Hoch and Archie Stout was unique and unusual for its time, with their lush and colourful depictions of the Irish countryside.

Watching The Quiet Man today it appears to provide a patronising and sentimental picture of pre-modern or pre-industrial Ireland, an older society of dowries and donnybrooks, of cattle fairs and treating women like chattels. Others say the comic structure of The Quiet Man is very close to the Shakespearean comic pattern in Winter’s Tale or Cymbeline. In many ways this was a film before its time, for its presents an idealised Irish society in which there are no social divisions based on class or religion. The benign Church of Ireland Rector of Inisfree, the Revd Cyril Playfair, is played by Arthur Shields, and Philip Stainton has a cameo role as the unnamed Church of Ireland bishop.

In the days before a new ecumenism was ushered in by Vatican II, the Rector, the Revd Cyril Playfair, and the Parish Priest, Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond), have a friendship so warm that one helps boost the other’s Sunday church attendance figures so the parish can hold on to its own church and rector.

Today, Saint Mary’s Church in Cong is part of the Tuam Union of parishes, and the Dean of Tuam is also the Rector of Cong.

Ashford Castle … a Victorian gothic fantasy built by the Guinness family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We followed the Heritage Trail around the village, visited Cong Abbey and the parish churches, followed some of the trails and walks through the trees and woods and across the lakes, viewed the ‘Dry Canal,’ and had a delightful lunch in the Happy Monk Café opposite the abbey before going on to visit Ashford Castle, a Gothic Victorian fantasy.

There were more stories to tell about a previous rector and his revolutionary daughter. But the whole story of Cong is worth telling at a later date.

27 May 2013

An evening in a cathedral with more meaning for the dead than the living

The ruins of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Annaghdown, on the eastern shores of Lough Corrib, Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

On the way back to Dublin from a funeral in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, my eye was caught by a road-sign pointing to Eanach Dhúin on the eastern shores of Lough Corrib. No other sign gave a hint that this back road was leading to the ancient monastic site of Annaghdown, where the local community in this part of Co Galway struggled to maintain an independent diocese until well into the 16th century.

The evening was beginning to close in, rain was threatening, and there was still a long drive from Galway ahead of us. But this was one of the few cathedral sites in Ireland I had not yet visited, and the story of the claims of a tiny independent diocese and its cathedral made the short detour an inviting prospect.

Annaghdown, which is about 19 km north of Galway, takes its name from the Irish Eanach Dhúin (“the marsh of the fort”), and the ruins – at the end of a long twisting road, lined with thatched cottages – lie alongside Annaghdown Bay on the eastern shores of Lough Corrib.

According to tradition, Annaghdown was founded as a monastic site by in the 6th century when Saint Brendan of Clonfert – also known as Saint Brendan the Navigator – was granted the site by Áed mac Echach, King of Connacht. Saint Brendan is said to have died here in the year 577, but was buried at Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert.

Was Annaghdown ever an independent diocese?

The earliest reliable reference to Annaghdown occurs in Comainmniguid Noem nErenn, composed ca 800, with a reference to Ciarán Enaigh Dúin, or Ciarán of Annaghdown. This may indicate a link with Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise rather than Saint Brendan of Clonfert.

However, the connection with Clonfert may have been no more than a reflection of an attempt by Clonfert to justify its claim on the church of Annaghdown at a later period. Indeed, we know little about the early history of Annaghdown, and it does not appear in the annals until the 12th century.

The Diocese of Annaghdown was not listed at either the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 or the Synod of Kells in 1152. Annaghdown may have been formed as a diocese in 1179 at the Synod of Clonfert, called by the papal legate, Archbishop Laurence O’Toole of Dublin, and it represtned the territory of O Flaherty clan in West Connacht. It continued to survive as a diocese for three of four centuries, mainly through the monastic outreach from Annaghdown Abbey.

The title Bishop of Annaghdown was used from about 1189, and several bishops were elected by the cathedral chapter until 1485.

Conn Ua Mellaig was Bishop of Annaghdown in 1189, when he attended the coronation of King Richard I of England on 17 September 1189. He died in office in 1202. His successor, Murchad Ua Flaithbertaig (O Flaherty), died in office in 1241. The next bishop, Tomas Ó Mellaig, may never have lived in Annaghdown, and appears to have worked as a suffragan bishop in Lincoln in 1246. He may have been deprived in 1247 and died in 1250.

His successor, Conchobar, was bishop in 1251. But, in 152 the Archbishop of Tuam petitioned the Henry III for the suppression of the diocese on his own doorstep, and from 1253 and 1306 Annaghdown was united to Tuam, although there were two bishops in this period. The first, Thomas, died around 1263. The second was John de Ufford, who had been Archdeacon of Annaghdown. He was elected in 1283 and went to Rome where he spent many years seeking confirmation of his election. But he was never consecrated a bishop and he resigned in 1289 in favour of Archbishop William de Bermingham, who promptly appointed him Archdeacon of Tuam.

Archbishop de Bermingham tried to force the Dean and Chapter of Annaghdown to resign, but in 1303 Dionysius, Dean of Annaghdown, travelled to Rome with a petition for the restoration of the diocese, its cathedral and the cathedral chapter. Three years later, Gilbert Ó Tigernaig, a Franciscan, was elected Bishop of Annaghdown. However, it appears he spent most of his time in office as a suffragan bishop in England in the dioceses of Hereford, Winchester and Worcester until he died in 1322.

Another Franciscan, Robert Petit or Robert Le Petit, who had been Bishop of Clonfert, became Bishop of Annaghdown in 1325. But once again, he served as a suffragan bishop in England, primarily in the Diocese of Salisbury. In 1327, Pope John XXII formally decreed the union of the dioceses of Annaghdown, Kilmacduagh and Achonry with Tuam. Yet, a year later, Albertus became Bishop of Annaghdown.

In 1330, Tomás Ó Mellaig petitioned the Pope in Avignon to recognise him as Bishop of Annaghdown. Although his appeal fell on deaf ears, a full cathedral establishment was maintained, with a dean, archdeacon, canons and vicars choral. However, it seems that from the mid-14th century it seems Bishops of Annaghdown were appointed to serve as suffragan bishops in England, mainly in the dioceses of Bath and Wells, Exeter, Hereford, Lincoln, Salisbury, Winchester, York.

Thomas Barrett was appointed Bishop of Annaghdown by the Pope in 1458, although the see had been held since 1450 by Donatus Ó Muireadhaigh as Archbishop of Tuam. Once again, Barrett spent most of his time in England as a suffragan bishop in Exeter and Bath and Wells. In 1484, King Richard III sent him to Ireland on a diplomatic mission to Ireland, although he failed to reconcile Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, with the crown.

When Barrett died and the Wardenship of Galway was created in 1485, the Diocese of Annaghdown was formally united with Tuam by Papal decree once again, and some of its parishes, including Claregalway, Moycullen and Shrule, along with Oranmore and Maree, Oughterard, Rahoon and Skryne, were attached to the new wardenship.

However, the title of Bishop of Annaghdown continued. Francois Brunand, a Carmelite friar, became Bishop of Annaghdown ca 1494-1496, but acted as a suffragan bishop in Geneva until he died ca 1504. The title was then dormant until John O’More or O’Moore became bishop around 1539. He was jailed for accepting his appointment from the pope, although there was no record of a papal provision. He was released in 1540 and then appears to have been recognised by the Crown. He died ca 1553, and was the last diocesan Bishop of Annaghdown. Two years later, Annaghdown was united to Tuam once again and for the last time, although the union of the two was not finally accepted until 1580.

Cathedral ruins

The intricately designed East Window alone makes Annaghdown Cathedral worth visiting (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

On Sunday afternoon [26 May 2013], I tramped through the long, wet grass in Annaghdown churchyard to visit the remaining ruins of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, mostly dating from the 15th century, but said to be built on the site of a church burned down in the 12th century. It may be the church that was built by Áedh Ó Flaithbheartaigh (Hugh O’Flaherty) in 1410.

This plain, drab cathedral is now roofless, and is entered through a door in the south wall. The building is a barn-like structure, with a small, square bell turret at the top of the west gable. The north wall has two large, plain, pointed arch windows without tracery. The cathedral also had a chancel arch, but only the outline of this can be seen on the walls.

The one striking feature in the ruined building is the intricately designed East Window, which alone makes the cathedral worth visiting. This East Window, which dates from the 12th century and may have been saved from an earlier building or moved from another church building on the same site, perhaps the neighbouring Augustinian Priory.

The window is carved in blue-grey limestone, with chevrons biting into the long body of a monster. The monster’s hind legs provide the base of the south-side jamb, while the monster’s head on the north-side jamb devours a bundle of serpents.

The church continued to be used by the Church of Ireland as a parish church until at least the 18th century.

A monastic site

The ruins of the Abbey of Saint John the Baptist de Cella Parva, Annaghdown, Co Galway (Photograph: Andreas F. Borchert)

A round tower may have stood at Annaghdown until the early 13th century, but if it did there was no trace of by the late second half of the 19th century. Today, the site includes the ruined cathedral, the Abbey of Saint John the Baptist de Cella Parva, the College of Saint Brendan, the ruins of an Augustinian priory, holy wells named after Saint Brendan and Saint Cormac, and a ruined castle.

The oldest building on the site, known as the ‘Nunnery,’ is to the north of the cathedral ruins, and probably dates from the 11th or 12th century.

Further to the north are the remains of nave, chancel and some section of the walls of the church attached to the Premonstatensian Abbey of Saint John the Baptist de Cella Parva. It was founded as priory in 1223, and became an abbey in 1236. The first abbot, Thomas O’Malley, is said to have been the son of a bishop and a nun, and became Bishop of Annaghdown (1242-1250). The abbey survived until 1542 and the dissolution of the monastic houses.

Nearby stands the ruined Annaghdown Abbey or Priory, founded as the Abbey of Saint Mary de Portu Patrum, probably by Turlough O Conor, King of Connacht, ca 1140, at the insitence of Archbishop Malachy of Armagh. The remaining ruins include a church, a cloister and living quarters. The remaining details of the windows suggest that they were built in the 13th century and the south window of the choir seems to date from ca 1200.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1562, the abbey was granted to Richard Burke, Earl of Clanricarde. In 1578, a lease in reversion of the dissolved abbey was granted to the warden and vicars of King’s College, Galway.

Restoring a castle, reviving a title

As I left Annaghdown on Sunday evening, the lights were fading and the camera in my battery had died. I nodded a polite farewell to a few local people who were tending family graves. Today, Annaghdown is no longer a living ecclesiastical site and its only significance is to found among the dead.

I never got to see Annaghdown Castle, a nearby tower house built on the eastern shores of Lough Corrib by the O’Flaherty family in the late 14th century – although other authorities say it was built in 1421 by the Archbishop of Tuam. It stands 200 metres south of the priory, and was once owned by the redoubtable Lady (Molly) Cusack-Smith (11906-1998) of the Galway Blazers. She sold the castle for £2,000 to Ray Cook of Galway, who restored it in recent decades.

Meanwhile, the title of Bishop of Annaghdown was revived as a titular title in the Roman Catholic Church as Bishop of Eanach Dúin in 1970. That title is currently held by Bishop Octavio Cisneros, an Auxiliary Bishop of New York, since 2006.

The one county of Galway has seven cathedrals: four in the Church of Ireland – Annaghdown, Clonfert, Kilmacduagh and Tuam, and three more in the Roman Catholic Church– Galway, Loughrea and Tuam. It is strange then to think that the Church of Ireland has never had a resident bishop in Galway, and never seized the opportunity after the suppression of the Wardenship of Galway to create a consolidated Diocese of Galway.

26 May 2013

A funeral on Trinity Sunday in Ballinrobe ... the oldest town in Mayo

Ballinrobe is said to be the oldest town in Co Mayo and the old Market House was built in 1752 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

I had planned to be in Christ Church Cathedral this morning for the Festival Eucharist on Trinity Sunday. Instead, I was in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, for the funeral of a friend’s mother.

At the funeral mass in Saint Mary’s Church, the parish priest, Father Conal Eustace, managed to both celebrate this Feastday of the Holy Trinity, with a clear exposition of Sophia and the Wisdom of God, and to preach a proper and appropriate funeral sermon.

Ballinrobe (Baile an Róba, the “Town of the (River) Robe”) is 48 km north of Galway, on the N84 from Galway to Castlebar. The town, with a population of 3,682 (2011), stands on the banks of the River Robe, which empties into Lough Mask 2 km to the west.

A period house in a sad state of decay on the western edges of Ballinrobe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Although many of the houses and shops on High Street and Bridge Street are in a sad state of decay, the rest of Ballinrobe is a thriving market town, and it also serves a dormitory town for both Galway and Castlebar.

But Ballinrobe dates back to 1390 and is said to be the oldest town in Co Mayo. The town developed as an important economic centre in south-west Mayo after King James I granted a Royal Charter in 1606 for fairs and markets in Ballinrobe. The old Market House was built in 1752.

Ballinrobe Racecourse is the only racecourse in Co Mayo. There are records of meetings as far back as 1774, and there is a two-day meeting tomorrow [Monday] and one Tuesday evening.

Dr Noel Browne’s childhood home in Church Lane, Ballinrobe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Ballinrobe’s famous residents include Dr Noel Browne (1915-1997), the former Minister for Health, who lived in Church Lane in his youth, and Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897), a local land agent whose ostracism by the local people of gave the word “boycott” to the English language.

The intrepid Henry Blosse Lynch (1807-1873) came from Partry House in Ballinrobe. He became a midshipman in the Indian navy in 1823, and served in the Persian Gulf, learning to speak Arabic and Persian. When he was shipwrecked in the Red Sea in 1832, Lynch crossed the Nubian Desert and followed the Nile down into Egypt. Two years later, he accompanied Francis Chesney on his exploration of the River Euphrates. In 1837, he mapped the course of the Tigris from its source in Armenia to Baghdad. Later, Lynch commanded a squadron of the Indian Navy during the second Burmese War. He retired in 1856, settling in Paris where he died in 1873.

A pair of Harry Clarke windows in Saint Mary’s Church, Ballinrobe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

This morning’s funeral was in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Main Street. The church, which dates from 1853, has eight pairs of low light windows by Harry Clarke that were commissioned by Monsignor d’Alton in 1924. The windows depict scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and eight Irish saints.

The ruined Augustinian Abbey on the north side of Ballinrobe, said to be the first Augustinian friary west of the Shannon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Augustinian Abbey is off Abbey Street on the Cloongowla Road, just above the former flood plains of the River Robe. This was the first Augustinian friary west of the Shannon, and is said to have been founded ca 1312 by Elizabeth de Clare, grand-daughter of King Edward I and wife of John de Burgh. She is said to have built the friary to celebrate the birth of her first son William. However, an unpublished history in the Augustinian archives in Dublin says the abbey was founded in 1337 by Roger Taaffe.

In 1400, Pope Boniface IX granted indulgences anyone who assisted in the conservation and repair of the friary. But when a fire damaged the friary in 1413, the community was reduced to poverty once again.

The Abbey survived into the late 17th century, and it said Mass was celebrated in the abbey as late as 1692.
The ruined church is surrounded by a graveyard. The church ruins consist of a nave and chancel. Parts of the west doorway with rope fluting are original, while the window overhead was retrieved from the east gable. The east tracery window is not original, but was reconstructed based on original fragments.

A piscinia and sedilia on the south wall of the ruined Augustinian church in Ballinrobe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

On the south wall, there are two paired piscinias and sedilias. Also on the south wall, splayed windows contain two distinct mason marks. A building on the north-east outside corner of church may have been the chapter house. It is accessed through a doorway and steps in the north wall.

A narrow doorway on the north wall gives access to a square chapel with widely splayed embrasure containing a narrow light window. A cross slab was found beneath the west doorway during excavations.

The Knights Hospitallers also had a house and chapel near the Abbey in Ballinrobe. One of the Hospitallers, Stephen de Fulburn, became Archbishop of Tuam in 1286, while still the King’s Viceroy; he died in 1288.

Saint Mary’s, the former Church of Ireland parish church, now houses the local library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The former Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Mary’s, now houses the local library, approached through a large archway on the Main Street, and a second entrance from Church Lane. Mayo County Council leased the building from the Church of Ireland in the early 1990s, and the new library opened in the renovated building in 1996.

Saint Mary’s is a typical early 19th century Board of First Fruits church. It is a simple, oblong, gable-ended structure, with a hammer-beam roof, a Welland-designed pulpit. A steeple erected on a tower around 1815 lasted for only nine years.

In 1834, the Church of Ireland population of Ballinrobe numbered about 500, and the graveyard, the memorials inside the church, the stained-glass windows and the wall plaques recall parishioners who lived, worked and contributed to the social fabric of Ballinrobe.

The locked arch on Main Street providing access to the library in the former Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Unfortunately, the library was locked this morning, but I believe the stained-glass windows inside Saint Mary’s include a large stained-glass memorial window at the east end, with two smaller ones on the north and west walls. The main window commemorates Colonel Charles Knox (1817-1867) of Cranmore. In 1839, he married Lady Louisa Catherine Browne, daughter of Howe Peter, 2nd Marquess of Sligo. She died in 1891 and is remembered in a brass plaque below the window, which has three panels representing: the Ascension (centre), the Light of the World (left), based on Holman Holt’s famous painting, and the Good Shepherd (right). The other windows commemorate Major Charles William Cuff Knox, who died in1910, and Charles Howe Cuff Knox, who died in 1921.

There are eight wall monuments inside Saint Mary’s, the earliest recalling James Cuff (1828), and the last commemorating Miss Dorothy Hearne, who was a member of the library for many years and played a vital role in the church becoming a library.

The library is surrounded by the old graveyard, of Saint Mary’s. There are over 225 legibly named burials. The earliest recorded burial was in 1668 of Katherine Holcroft, wife of Sir Charles Holcroft, a ‘Loughrea Commissioner’ involved in overseeing the transfer of land to the transplanted in Connaught. Her grave is marked with a carved skull and crossbones above the inscription and her family’s coat of arms. The next oldest gravestones are of those of Hugh Evans (1718) and William Smith (1719).

The graveyard is falling into a sad state of disrepair, but remains a tranquil oasis in the centre of Ballinrobe.

After the funeral, I spent the afternoon in Cong, on the edges of Connemara, visiting the abbey, Ashford Castle, and the locations of the 1950s film, The Quiet Man, and the shores of Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. After returning briefly to Ballinrobe, I then visited the ruins of Annaghdown Cathedral. But these are stories for another day.

24 May 2013

Abolition of nuclear weapons –
‘moral imperative of our age’

Today’s edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [24 May 2013] carries the following half-page news report and photograph on the back page (p. 16):

Abolition of nuclear weapons –
‘moral imperative of our age’

Canon Patrick Comerford

Addressing the recent annual general meeting of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) in the Mansion House, Dublin – following his re-election as the organisation’s President – Canon Patrick Comerford said it was “an honour that I would prefer there was no need for and this is a campaign that I hope … can work its way out of existence.”

Otherwise, Canon Comerford, who lectures in Anglicanism and Liturgy in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, feared that “the consequence may be that the whole of humanity has worked its way out of existence.”

He referred to a Civil Society Forum hosted earlier this year by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – and attended by representatives of Irish CND – to draw attention to the impact of the use of nuclear weapons and encourage all states to begin work on outlawing them.

Participants had presented findings on the environmental, developmental and health consequences of nuclear detonations and concluded that “no international response plan could effectively be put in place to respond to such an event … any attempt to respond would be futile … prevention is the only option.”

Canon Comerford also referred to an international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons which the Norwegian Government had hosted in March.

He said that the conference had marked “a new beginning towards the elimination of nuclear weapons … the first time states have come together to consider the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons, to confront the horror of these weapons and to realise they must take responsibility for putting in place an international ban that is long overdue.”

The Irish CND President denounced “nations [which] still consider it their prerogative to possess these ghastly weapons, each capable of obliterating many thousands of innocent civilians, including children, in a flash,” mentioning in particular the US, Russia, Britain, France, China and Israel.

He continued by asserting: “Let us work for the imaginable – the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is not only a moral imperative, it is the moral imperative of our age.”

21 May 2013

Ruskin, Millais and a family portrait

Stephen Edward Comerford (left) like a cut-out figure at a waterfall, and John Ruskin (right) in the well-known portrait by John Everett Millais (Photomontage: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

When my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford, was young and successful, he had his portrait taken in a way that presented him as a young Victorian man with confidence looking forward to the future.

I had always imagined that the photograph was taken in a photographer’s studio, but with the intent of creating the impression of an ideal rustic background, with a cascading waterfall, rocks, rich vegetation, and a clearing in a former thicket.

Stephen is dressed in a three-piece suit and wing-collar short, holding a walking cane in one hand and a hat in the other. But his shoes are well-made and highly-polished, so this is clearly a studio scene rather than a setting at the Powerscourt Waterfall near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, or at a waterfall in Killarney, Co Kerry. It is certainly not in the Scottish Highlands.

It seemed to be the sort of photograph a man confident that a full successful career lay ahead of him would like to have taken. I only have a copy of the photograph, from the house in Terenure where my grandmother lived, rather than the original. So I have no idea of the original date of the photograph, or of the name of the photographer.

But because of a news story this week, I realised that this photograph of my grandfather is modelled on the formal portrait of John Ruskin (1819-1900) by Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896). This portrait, painted in 1853, captures the great art critic and inspirational figure for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in a style that fulfils Ruskin’s ideals.

It was announced on Monday [20 May 2013] that this celebrated Pre-Raphaelite painting, which led to the breakdown of Ruskin’s marriage, has been acquired by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The museum said this week it was “one of the most important Pre-Raphaelite paintings” that had remained in private ownership.

Millais was a child prodigy: at 11, he was the youngest ever student to enter the prestigious Royal Academy Schools. There he met William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti here, and together that formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The leaders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood included William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, and Ford Madox Brown. They were radicals in terms of technique, choice of subject matter, composition and the way they engaged with the viewer.

They explored religious, social, moral and political themes in a way that was new and often shocking. They rejected High Renaissance artists such as Raphael, preferring earlier artists like Botticelli. Alison Smith, curator of a recent exhibition at the Tate Britain in London, has described the Pre-Raphaelites, founded in 1848, as the Victorian avant garde ... “painters who self-consciously reacted against convention, against orthodoxy and established new a benchmark for modern painting both in Britain and internationally.”

Millais’s famous works include Christ in the House of his Parents, The Princes in the Tower, and Ophelia. Ruskin and Millais became friends, but while Millais had electrified the art world with his Ophelia, Ruskin, as a critic, had declared this Ophelia “insipid,” and he invited Millais to the Trossachs to learn what landscapes were all about.

Ruskin considered landscape painting to be “the chief artistic creation of the 19th century,” and regarded the accurate depiction of nature as a moral activity.

Millais, at 24, was 10 years younger than his sitter, who thought of him as his protégé and regarded him as the most promising member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. But the portrait that was to cement their friendship ended up as the cause of their estrangement.

Millais’s portrait is a distillation of Ruskin’s theories on “truth to nature.” Ruskin stands elegantly and naturally on the rocky edge of a cascading waterfall with luscious flora occupying the upper register of the canvas. As if directly responding to Ruskin’s arguments for detail and truthful representation, Millais carefully renders tin detail the facial features of his subject, the particular grooves in his hat, and the design of clothing and shoes.

The figure, therefore, seems real and specific – as opposed to the generalisation of an anonymous model. The realism captures a precise moment, perhaps a moment of quiet reflection or meditation, suggesting the artist painted at the scene, from nature.

The rocks, the water, and the flora around the subject also fulfil Ruskin’s ideals of colour and depth. The rocks appear gray and blue with detailed green and ochre moss. The vegetation recedes smoothly into a three-dimensional space behind Ruskin, juxtaposing the cool aqua blues of the background with the warm fleshy tones of Ruskin’s skin.

But as he stands and watches the crashing stream flows past him, Ruskin is impassive. That water will never splash him, and he will never step into it. Why are we looking at an aloof subject, painted by an active painter? This is explained in the story behind the painting itself.

The biographer RaleighTrevelyan says Millais’s portrait of Ruskin “has as much drama behind it as any picture in history.” It is certainly hard to think of a painting created in more turbulent circumstances.

Millais, Ruskin and Ruskin’s wife Effie stayed in the Byre Inn pub in Brig o’ Turk while they were in the Trossachs in the summer of 1853. The portrait was to be painted, according to Ruskin’s recipe for “absolute, uncompromising truth”, painstakingly from the life. But the weather in Scotland during the summer of 1853 was atrocious, and in an attempt to cheat the incessant rain, Millais built a kind of tent, so that he could continue to paint under its shelter.

However, the tent turned into a wind tunnel and Millais found that more and more he was confined to the cramped lodgings he shared with the Ruskins.

As weeks turned to months, and Ruskin continued to bury himself in his books, compiling the index for The Stones of Venice, Millais’s feelings for Effie grew stronger and ever more difficult to contain.

And so, as artist painted the critic communing with nature, he was also having an affair with his patron’s wife, the young and neglected Effie. Millais and Effie had fallen in love. Not long afterwards, Effie finally plucked up the courage to challenge the legality of her six-year marriage to Ruskin, claiming it had never been consummated.

The marriage was annulled. Millais belatedly finished his portrait of Ruskin. A year later, Effie married Millais.

Trevelyan has told the whole story in great detail in his book Millais and the Ruskins (1967). But even if the troubled circumstances behind the painting were not known, the viewer might still sense that something, here, is not quite right.

Ruskin stands before us in a wild natural landscape of the kind that he wrote about frequently. His feet are planted on a boulder of crystalline slate rock, the surface of which sparkles with silvery lichen, while behind him a mountain torrent flows and foams. But “the prophet of nature” seems curiously out of place in this particular corner of the natural world.

In his cravat and frock-coat, Ruskin appears to be an incongruously urbane figure. He might almost have been cut out from another picture and arbitrarily superimposed on the background. His glassy stare and his air of introspection seem to tell us that he is alienated from all the life and beauty that surrounds him.

At first, Millais says Ruskin is “perfect” and “gentle and forbearing.” But gradually he becomes a “scoundrel” who unforgivably neglects his wife: “an undeniable giant as an author, but a poor weak creature in everything else, bland and heartless, and unworthy – with his great talents – of any woman possessing affection, and sensibility.”

Millais made these last remarks during the winter of 1853, a couple of months after returning to London with his picture still unfinished. In March 1854, he wrote that “the portrait is the most hateful task I ever had to perform”. But he still felt compelled to complete it, and in the process he had Ruskin pose several times in his Gower Street studio.

At the end of April 1854, Effie left Ruskin for good. In May, as she was being examined by doctors – who found that she was, as she claimed, still a virgin – Millais returned to Glenfinlas to put the last touches to the landscape background. “Although it will be dreadfully strange revisiting it, still I feel it a kind of duty to go there again,” he wrote.

The reasons for Ruskin’s reluctance or inability to consummate his marriage with Effie remain uncertain. Effie, in a letter to her father, says that “the reason he did not make me his wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening.” Ruskin, in a legal statement, claimed “there were circumstances in her person” that “completely checked passion.”

Mary Lutyens argues that he was traumatised by the discovery that Effie had pubic hair, unlike the sculpted female nudes he was familiar with. Tim Hilton, in John Ruskin: The Early Years, blames menstruation.

Whatever the truth, Millais came to his own conclusions. He made Ruskin’s perceived “unnaturalness” the theme of his portrait. So it was that the figure of the critic, painted in Gower Street, was patched imperfectly into a Highland landscape. Whether the sense of incongruity and clenched self-absorption that resulted was achieved by accident or design, the portrait sums up what the artist had come to think of the sitter.

Although Millais had declared that finishing the portrait had become “the most hateful task I have ever had to perform,” the portrait would revolutionises landscape and portrait painting in the Victorian period, and the site where the portrait is set has been described as “the most important site in the history of British landscape painting.”

In 1871, Ruskin gave the portrait to his friend Henry Wentworth Acland, who went on to become Regius Professor of Medicine in Oxford. It hung in his home in Broad Street, Oxford, and remained in the family until sold by his descendants at Christie’s in 1965, when it was bought for £7 million by the late owner. It was displayed at an exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain in London in 2004 and was loaned to the Ashmolean Museum in January 2012.

Now, rather than pay £7 million in inheritance tax, the owner’s have decided to donate the portrait to the public. On Monday, it was announced in Oxford that the painting has been allocated to the Ashmolean by the Arts Council England under the Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance scheme.

The Director of the Ashmolean, Professor Christopher Brown, called the painting “extraordinary.” He added: “The portrait is of supreme importance for the study of 19th century British art and it will be shown with the museum’s world-renowned Pre-Raphaelite collection.”

The actress Emma Thompson has written and featured in a film called Effie about the painting which is due to be released later this year.

Meanwhile, my copy of my grandfather’s portrait hangs in my dining room, showing Stephen Comerford standing Ruskin-like in a rugged setting, on a rock before a waterfall, with a cane in one hand, his hat in the other, dressed in cravat and coat. He too is an incongruously urbane figure who might have been cut out from another picture and arbitrarily superimposed on the background.

His portrait was an act of staking his claim to an affinity with the Victorian artists of his time and the values that inspired the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts Movement. But his two marriages appear to have been happy, and I cannot say that he was alienated from the life and beauty that surrounded him.

Healing a woman in the synagogue on the sabbath (Luke 13: 10-17)

Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath, by James Tissot (1886-1896)

Patrick Comerford

Luke 13: 10-17

10 Ην δὲ διδάσκων ἐν μιᾷ τῶν συναγωγῶν ἐντοῖς σάββασιν. 11 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ πνεῦμα ἔχουσα ἀσθενείας ἔτη δεκαοκτώ, καὶ ἦν συγκύπτουσα καὶ μὴ δυναμένη ἀνακύψαι εἰς τὸ παντελές. 12 ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὴν ὁ Ἰησοῦς προσεφώνησεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Γύναι, ἀπολέλυσαι τῆς ἀσθενείας σου, 13 καὶ ἐπέθηκεν αὐτῇ τὰς χεῖρας: καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀνωρθώθη, καὶ ἐδόξαζεν τὸν θεόν. 14 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἀρχισυνάγωγος, ἀγανακτῶν ὅτι τῷ σαββάτῳ ἐθεράπευσενὁ Ἰησοῦς, ἔλεγεν τῷ ὄχλῳ ὅτι Ἓξ ἡμέραι εἰσὶν ἐν αἷς δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι: ἐν αὐταῖς οὖν ἐρχόμενοι θεραπεύεσθε καὶ μὴ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ σαββάτου. 15 ἀπεκρίθη δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος καὶ εἶπεν, Ὑποκριταί, ἕκαστος ὑμῶν τῷ σαββάτῳ οὐ λύει τὸν βοῦν αὐτοῦ ἢ τὸν ὄνον ἀπὸ τῆς φάτνης καὶ ἀπαγαγὼν ποτίζει; 16 ταύτην δὲ θυγατέρα Ἀβραὰμ οὖσαν, ἣν ἔδησεν ὁ Σατανᾶς ἰδοὺ δέκα καὶ ὀκτὼ ἔτη, οὐκ ἔδει λυθῆναι ἀπὸ τοῦ δεσμοῦ τούτου τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ σαββάτου; 17 καὶ ταῦτα λέγοντος αὐτοῦ κατῃσχύνοντο πάντες οἱ ἀντικείμενοι αὐτῷ, καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἔχαιρεν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐνδόξοις τοῖς γινομένοις ὑπ' αὐτοῦ.

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ 15 But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.


The Kahal Shalom Synagogue, with the women’s gallery behind and above the tevah (Photograph: RhodesPrivateTours.com)

I have chosen this story not because of some of our discussions last weekend about elderly women, their health, widowhood and experiences of bereavement, but because it is the first of the Gospel readings in the lectionary readings for this morning. We are reading through Saint Luke’s Gospel in these weekday readings, but we also started reading the Book of Ruth this week.

When I read this story I am reminded of the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, the last surviving, functioning synagogue on the Greek island of Rhodes, and the woman who gave me a tour of that synagogue.

The interior of the synagogue follows the traditional Sephardic style of having the tevah or reading platform in the centre, facing south-east towards Jerusalem. Behind it and above is the balcony, created in 1935 as a result of a liberalisation of religious policy, for use as a women’s prayer area. Before that, the women sat in the rooms beside the south wall of the synagogue, and could see into the main body of the synagogue, through curtained openings. Those rooms are now used for the Jewish Museum of Rhodes.

The brave woman with an extraordinary story who showed me around the synagogue and the museum, Lucia Modiano Soulam, was bent over and in her 80s. She was an exceptionally brave woman with an extraordinary story. She was a survivor of Auschwitz and spoke Greek, Ladino, Italian, a little French and Turkish and very little English.

Because there are only seven Jewish families left on Rhodes, the synagogue depends on tourists to make up a minyan, and to lead public prayers.

As a family, we attended a sabbath service in the synagogue as her guest, and she sat with us, so that there were two women among a congregation in which the minyan was made up thanks to Israeli and American tourists.

I think of her as having been captive to Satan in Auschwitz for many years because of the sins of so many men. Now she was old and bent over, but taking her place in a synagogue where once she would only have been seen in the balcony above and behind the tevah, or behind the screens and curtains in the adjoining women’s rooms.

In her suffering, Lucia had become, truly, a Daughter of Abraham.

Some introductory questions:

Which images leap out at you in this story?

Which characters leap out at you in this story?

Perhaps Jesus, but in what role? As teacher (verse 10, verses 16), keen observer of humanity (verse 12), healer (verses 12-13), Lord God (verse 15), judge (verse 15), affirmer (verse 16) or wonder worker (verse 17)?

The woman? She is unnamed, but so too is the town in which this synagogue is located.

How do you image her? In her previous physical condition? Or as she looks after Jesus heals her?

The leader of the synagogue (verses 14 and 15)? He too is unnamed.

Who are the hypocrites in verse 15? Who are the opponents in verse 17? The leader of the synagogue and …?

The ox and the ass (verse 15)?

Abraham (verse 16)? Apart from Jesus, he is the only other character named in this story.

The crowd (verses 14 and 17), the many? The fickle crowd who rejoice now, like the crowd who rejoice at the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday?

And, to test your imagination, if this had been a lost Gospel passage and you came to it as a first-time reader, who would you identify with initially?

Let us look at some of the figures in this story.

What makes this woman unusual, or what makes this healing story unusual? Like many of the women in the Gospels, she remains anonymous. So who can she be compared with?

No other woman in the Bible is referred to as a daughter of Abraham. Indeed, the Book Genesis records no named daughter of Abraham, and the rabbis argued over whether Abraham had any daughters (see Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra, which records an argument between R. Meir and R. Yehuda). So, seeking to compare her with a daughter of Abraham, or with other woman in the New Testament, is chasing after shadows.

Yet, although the description of the woman as “daughter of Abraham” is unusual, it is placed first in the Greek sentence (verse 16) as a position of emphasis. We are all familiar with discussions about how this stakes a claim for her as a true heir to the covenantal relationship with God. But there are two men in Saint Luke’s Gospel that she might be compared with too:

1, The unnamed rich man in the story of ‘Dives’ and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31) addresses Abraham as ‘father’ or ‘Father Abraham’ (verses 24, 27, 30), and Abraham address the rich man as ‘Child,’ but the child of Abraham is the outsider who is brought in.

In this morning’s story, Christ shows what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom – through his actions. He heals this woman and calls her a “daughter of Abraham,” which makes her, remarkably, a full member of Jewish society. Christ is saying the kingdom is open equally to women and to the sick and disabled.

2, The description of the woman as daughter of Abraham is matched later in this Gospel when Christ insists that Zacchaeus is “a son of Abraham” (Luke 19: 9), a point that is also made in the face of a crowd, this time a crowd that rejects Zacchaeus as a sinner. Think of how this woman’s physical position of being bent over is symbolic in the way that Zacchaeus is short in statute.

It is also worth noting too that the woman does not ask to be cured, and no one asks so on her behalf. Christ notices her himself (verse 12). This involves a turning round. She enters while Christ is teaching. If he has the scrolls in front of him, he is facing forward in the bema in the synagogue, and so she is behind him, either above in a balcony, if it is a large synagogue, or hidden behind a curtain in a smaller synagogue. She is unlikely to have been visible to Christ unless he turns around.

What does Christ do?

He turns around, and he calls the woman over. He tells her she is free, and he lays his hands on her. He has not yet addressed her as “Daughter of Abraham.” So it is not this label that causes offence.

Is it calling the women into the centre of the assembly? The ritual implications for many men present are outrageous and even incalculable.

There are five responses worth noticing:

● of the woman;
● of the leader of the synagogue;
● of Jesus;
● of all his opponents;
● of the crowd.

Those responses are:

● To stand up and praise God (the woman, verse 13);
● Indignation (the leader of the synagogue, verse 14);
● Judgment and teaching (Jesus);
● Shame (his opponents);
● Rejoicing (the crowd).

Ever since this story was written, I imagine, the synagogue leader has been typecast as the bad guy. Yet it is he who twice describes what Christ does as healing (θεραπεύω, therapeuo, twice in verse 14). Would he have been seen as the “bad guy” on the day itself? Can you imagine telling the story from his point of view?

His indignation is neither unusual nor outrageous, but is justified given who he is speaking on the behalf of, given the religious culture within which he is operating.

His first concern may have been for the men in his synagogue who risked being ritually tainted on the day. He voices his objections not when Jesus calls her over, not when he lays his hands on her, but only when she stands up and praises God.

Twice in our text we are told that the woman has had this illness for 18 years (probably a word connection with the 18 who died in Luke 13: 4). What difference would a few hours make? Why heal her on the Sabbath day and deliberately stir up all this conflict? We should note that emphasis is provided by the word sabbath occurring five times in the text.

Jesus’ breaking of the sabbath seems pointless and unnecessary. He is not performing a good deed that, if delayed, could not be performed at a later time. This is not a woman who needs immediate rescue, or who is caught upstairs in a burning house. Having waited 18 years, she could wait until after sundown.

For the Pharisees, the sabbath is the chief sacrament of the order of creation, so it is reasonable for them to argue that it may lawfully be broken only if some significant individual instance of the order of creation is in danger of imminent and irreversible disordering. If the woman has been able to bear her disability for 18 years, surely Christ can wait out the afternoon and heal her after sunset without flying in the face of the Torah? Why can he not wait until sunset? In the meantime, he and the synagogue elders could search the Law and the Prophets together, and then the healing could be seen in all its unquestionable rightness.

Perhaps if Christ had waited until sundown, his wonderful miracle would have supported the people’s expectations of a victorious, triumphalist Messiah. But he constantly announces the coming kingdom in words and deeds that run counter to their expectations for the kingdom.

One way of dealing with a message we do not want to hear, is to shoot the messenger. Perhaps Christ could have spent all day arguing with the synagogue elders about whether or not it was legal to heal this woman on the sabbath – while she remained ill.

But why does the leader not direct his words to Christ? Instead, he addresses his complaints to the woman and to the crowd. He does not doubt Jesus’ ability to heal, and it is the woman’s action rather than of those of Jesus that he condemns. He has no problem about her coming to synagogue or coming for healing. Instead, he upbraids her for coming on a Saturday, and he tells her to come for healing on any one of the other six days of the week. Yet, it does not appear that this woman comes seeking healing. She asks for nothing. Her release comes through Jesus’ own initiative.

What is the significance of Christ’s rebuttal? It is clever, for while untying an ox or a donkey on the sabbath was forbidden in one part of the Mishnah or Jewish book of laws, it was permitted in another. If you untie animals on the sabbath, why not humans?
We should be aware that in his rebuttal, Christ does not attack traditional Judaism. He simply offers one of a number of traditional points of view. This story continues the story in Luke 4 of Christ reading from and teaching from the scroll in the synagogue. He is now putting into action in the synagogue what he has taught in the synagogue.

Meanwhile, Christ has set free or untied the woman. But what was she tied to? To her disability and her infirmity? To Satan? To her community’s refusal to accept her? To one interpretation of what could or could not be done on the sabbath?

Her ailment is described literally as “a spirit of illness” (verse 11) and “weaknesses” (verse 12). The word ἀσθένεια (asthéneia) is used in both verses. Its literal meaning is without strength of body, in other words weakness or incapacity. Often this inability to do something is caused by a physical problem, such as disease or illness.

The result of Christ’s action is ἀνορθόω (anorthoo) (verse 13), literally “to set straight again.” But it also means “to restore,” “to rebuild,” or “to set right again.” Figuratively, Christ restores her to the Abrahamic covenant.

Jesus says to the woman, “… you have been set free,” ἀπολέλυσαι (apolélusai) “from your weakness” (verse 12). The NRSV translates it with the present tense, “you are set free.” This word απολουω (apoluo) is not usually associated with healing. Its general meaning is “to loose,” to unbind, to release, to send away, even to divorce (see Matthew 5: 32; 19: 3, 7, 8, 9). It can refer to the bandages used to tie a woman to her husband. It is closely related to the word λύω (luo) used twice by Christ in this story: to “untie” an ox or donkey (verse 15) and to “set free” from bondage (verse 16).

Finding some meanings in this story:

Is this is a story about controversy and division? Or is this a story about healing, wholeness and restoration?

Given the two synagogue settings I have referred to, is this a story about the practical relationship between what we believe and what we do – getting the balance right between being and doing?

The woman is not named in this story, and, once she stands up and praises God, she disappears from the story, never to be seen or heard again. She is written out of the controversy at the end of the story. So is it a story about her, or about the reaction of the crowd, our reaction, to the promise of restitution and wholeness that Christ offers? Apart from teaching that women and people with disabilities have a place in the centre of the community and at the heart of the kingdom, are there other meanings to be found in this story? What is it saying to us may be more important a question than what is it saying about the woman.

In addition, the words for “bound” and “bondage” in verse 16, δέω (deo) is only used in one other place in this Gospel, when it is used for the “tied up” colt (see Luke 19: 30, 33).

An icon of the Nativity of Christ … the ox and the ass are inseparably linked with the manger, but are not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the Nativity

And this leads me to the images that strike me in this story which include the ox and the ass in the manger. Of course, the ox and the ass in the manger are not mentioned in the Nativity narrative in Saint Luke’s Gospel. This is a popular image that is drawn from the Old Testament. In the Book Deuteronomy there is prohibition on tending to crops with a bull and a donkey side by side. But the ox and the ass later acquire a Messianic symbolism: “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1: 3).

The ox and the ass also make for some Talmudic and Mishnaic verses relating to Messianic prophecy, in which the bull becomes the symbol of Joseph and the donkey is interpreted as the Messiah’s vehicle of choice – and so there is a Messiah from the houses of Judah and Joseph.

Some questions for discussion:

When should we do things in the church we believe are right, and only deal with the repercussions afterwards?

When do we need to discuss and come to an agreement before taking action?

What holds people in bondage?

In what ways does legalism bind them?

How are we held in bondage to past successes, defending our habits by saying: “This is the way we’ve always done it”?

Does the way we behave in our churches on Sundays free people or kept them tied up?

Let us pray, in the words of the Collect in the Service of Celebration of Wholeness and Healing in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

Heavenly Father,
you anointed your Son Jesus Christ
with the Holy Spirit and with power
to bring to us the blessings of your kingdom.
Anoint your Church with the same Holy Spirit,
that we who share in his suffering and victory
may bear witness to the gospel of salvation;
through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared for a Bible study at the opening of a faculty staff meeting on 21 May 2013.

19 May 2013

The enticing promises of Summer

A long stretch of sand in the sunshine in Laytown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

The Day of Pentecost brought in the warm glow of the fire of the Holy Spirit, and it brought with it warm sunshine too.

After a full morning, with a teaching Eucharist for the Day of Pentecost, and a service of healing and anointing, two of us headed through the city centre and north through Gormanston and Julianstown to Laytown, where we parked the car looking out onto the beach and the sea.

A thatched cottage at the southern end of the beach in Laytown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The tide was out, the clouds were blue, and although we ought to have had warmer weather for the past few weeks, this is the first day I remember in this year that temperatures in this part of Ireland rose into the high teens and almost reached 20.

Church and cross on the sandbanks above the beach at Laytown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We walked north along the beach, past the church and cross that are dramatically perched on the sandbanks above the coast, as far as Bettystown, where outflows of effluent and waste are doing untold damage to the beach. Here and there, there are seething and smelly bubbling spots. It leaves you wondering what is rising to the surface, what is brought out into the water, and wondering what remains in the sand.

Along some parts of the beach at Bettystown, the sand is polluted and discoloured (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In one stretch of beach, the sand is discoloured by stains of green and orange left behind by the receding tide.

Meath County Council needs to move quickly before this attractive, sandy beach becomes not just an eyesore but a health hazard. Meath has a very short coastline, and boasts that this stretch of fine sand from Laytown through Bettystown to Mornington is the Gold Coast of Ireland. But the gold is burnished, and by the time summer arrives one wonders what colours are going to drift across the sands.

And while Meath County Council is at it, it could do something more to conserve and enhance this beautiful resource by banning cars from driving onto the beach. That alone would remove some of the oil and waste, andreduce the hazards to children too, making this a safer, quieter and more pleasant place.

A bicycle made for two ... on the beach below Relish in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

None of this, however, could take away from the pleasure of a late lunch in Relish, looking out across the sand-dunes and sand-banks to the beach and to the sea as we enjoyed the food and the friendly service.

Looking down to the beach at Bettystown from the terrace behind Relish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The sun was still shining when we finished our delightful lunch, and we stepped down onto the beach once again, walking back closer the shoreline to Laytown.

Reflecting on life and reflections on the beach at Laytown this afternoon (Photograph: Barbara Comerford, 2013)

From Julianstown and Gormanston, we drove along the coast road to Balbriggan and further south to Skerries. Sadly a few more restaurants and shops have closed in Skerries in recent months, but the warm sunshine filled the harbour area with an overflow of people enjoying the bars and the joys of this summer-like afternoon.

The harbour at Skerries in this afternoon’s warm sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

As we headed south through Rush, in the late evening, they were still playing cricket at Kenure.

Sunshine on the sand, Sunday cricket, beach walks, lunch in Relish, the harbour at Skerries ... the promises of Summer are enticing. And the weather forecasts say this warm spell of sunshine is to continue well into the week ahead.

A teaching Eucharist for the Day of Pentecost

“... to preside in the very deed that so expands the life of creatures is a function of unquestionable beauty and dignity,” according to Robert Hovda

Patrick Comerford


During our training, preparation and placements, many of us are filled with a natural human anxiety, worrying about the first time we stand before a congregation to celebrate or preside at the Eucharist or the Holy Communion. So much so, that we may be in danger of forgetting that we too are present among the congregation, to be enriched and fed spiritually as we meet Christ, present in word and sacrament.

We all know what it is to ask: “Will I get it all right when it comes to my turn?”

This morning, we have an opportunity, instead, to ask not about ourselves, but about the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper itself. This morning, we ask not “What am I doing?”

Rather, we ask: “What are we doing together?”

And: “What is Christ doing with me, with us?”

The Eucharist is the great thanksgiving –
eucharistia (εὐχαριστία) – for the great goodness of God. Whether we call this “The Eucharist,” “The Holy Communion,” “The Sacrament,” or “The Lord’s Supper,” this is the central act of Christian worship where Christ encounters and feeds his faithful ones.

As the first of the General Directions for Public Worship in
The Book of Common Prayer, and as Bishop Harold Miller says, “The Holy Communion is the central act of worship in the church.” Bishop Miller says it is the most normative and complete act of Sunday worship. He says: “The Holy Communion gives us a window into all that is most vital in our regular worship.”

As we have it, this service is not simply the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. It is a combination of both a Liturgy of the Word, a Prayer Service, and a Liturgy of the Sacrament.

The President’s Role at the Eucharist is defined at six specific points:

1, The Opening Greeting;
2, The Collect of the Day;
3, The Absolution;
4, introducing the Peace;
5, praying the Eucharistic Prayer;
6, the Dismissal.

So let us watch for these six moments as we are gathered together this morning.

The candles are lit, and the altar or table has been prepared for our celebration of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. It is covered with a fair linen cloth. On this, in the centre we have placed the corporal, a square white cloth. On this stand the chalices and the paten, covered by a burse and veil in the liturgical colours. In addition, there are two purificators for the administration of the chalices. The pocket of the burse has the chalice corporal inside it, with the pocket facing where the presiding priest is going to stand for the Eucharistic Prayer. This chalice corporal is used to cover the communion vessels after we have all received.

The Greek work ἐκκλησία
ekklesía, which we translate as “Church,” refers to the gathering of the people, the calling out of the world and into the assembly.

Before the arrival of the priest, the congregation gathers. We are here first and foremost as the gathered or assembled church, believers. Others may be guests, and welcomed guests, but it is not a secular gathering, on the one hand; nor, on the other hand, is it a meeting for evangelism. The presumption first and foremost is that those present are baptised believers.

We meet in his name, and we do as he commanded us.

We meet not as a collection of neighbours, or as a collection of individual Christians, but as the One Body of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit. The liturgy is essentially what we do – it is truly our “Common Prayer.”

Red is the colour for the Day of Pentecost and often for ordinations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Already, the candles are lit and the lectern has been dressed in the liturgical colours of the season: Red for the Day of Pentecost, for we are preparing for the outpouring of the consuming fire of the Holy Spirit.

In the vestry or sacristy, the priest may be saying prayers such as the familiar third collect at Morning Prayer:

Go before us, Lord, in all our doings, with your most gracious favour,
and further us with your continual help;
that in all our works begun, continued and ended in you,
we may glorify your holy name,
and finally by your mercy attain everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The memory of the silent prayers said by the priest before presiding or celebrating is retained in Holy Communion 1 in The Book of Common Prayer, where it says “The priest stands at the Lord’s Table. The people knell.” And then he or she prays the Lord’s Prayer (without the doxology) alone.

We too should be silent as we gather our thoughts, our minds, ourselves as we prepare to celebrate.

In common language, we normally use the words “celebration,” “celebrating” and celebrant” for the person presiding at the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

But we are all celebrating, celebrating together, we are all co-celebrants, and the person who presides is the one who seeks to bring it alive, to animate what is happening, to see that it truly is the liturgy, the work of the people, and not something we are present at as spectators.

The people have gathered, the many have come together to be one body.

We are social and sociable. We chat with one another.

But we are not collected individuals, and small groups of twos or threes.

We are about to be gathered together as one people.

The priest who is presiding is the last to enter, and we stand – in silence or singing a hymn – ready to be gathered together as one body.

The priest joins us before the altar or table.

Our worship does not open or begin with the processional hymn. It opens or begins when we are gathered together as one body when the presiding priest stands at the president’s chair and calls us together in the opening liturgical greeting.

The liturgical greeting is not the same as Good Morning. And it establishes who is presiding, the presidency, so it should not be left to a Reader or an assistant.

Normally the opening greeting is:

The Lord be with you
and also with you.

But this morning we use the greeting used from Easter Day until the Day of Pentecost:

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

A sentence of scripture may be read, and the presiding minister may introduce the liturgy of the day …

And we know why we are celebrating this Eucharist together this morning: This is a teaching Eucharist as part of the Spirituality module. And, while we have our communal worship with a Service of the Word later this morning, this is still a true celebration of Pentecost.

Christ is present among us in so many ways: in word, in sacrament, and in the gathered Body of Christ. And so, in awe and reverence, we draw our hearts and minds together and prepare to enter fully into worship, praying the Collect for Purity.

This prayer comes to us as an inheritance of Sarum Use, and was so loved that it has survived in
The Book of Common Prayer ever since 1549.

Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Penitence as part of the gathering of the people has been an integral part of Anglican liturgy since 1556.

The Confession is introduced with appropriate words, such as:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins, to intercede for us in heaven, and to bring us to eternal life.
Let us then confess our sins in penitence and faith,
firmly resolved to keep God’s commandments
and to live in love and peace:

Then there is silence to think about this.

We might then use the traditional words of confession, that begins with the words, “Almighty God, our heavenly Father …,” or, use Seasonal Penitential Kyries, sucg as those for the Day of Pentecost. The Kyrie responses are a Trinitarian acclamation and among the oldest prayers in the Church. In their Greek form they are the oldest surviving Greek prayers in the Western church:

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

Great and wonderful are you deeds,
Lord God, the Almighty

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are the King of glory, O Christ.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

We are then assured of God’s forgiveness as the priest pronounces the absolution:

Almighty God,
who forgives all who truly repent, have mercy on you,
pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and keep you in eternal life,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The canticle
Gloria in Excelsis may be omitted in Advent and Lent and on weekdays which are not holy days. In Holy Communion 1, the canticle Gloria comes after receiving Communion. Its present place restores the canticle to its place in 1549. We have been forgiven, now – like the angels and shepherds – we can give Glory to God who comes among us.

When we use
Gloria, we should use it joyfully, it is full of images that children love. Resonances of its words can be found in some form almost all Christmas carols, for example, and children delight in its images, its words and its pictures.

This morning we sing Gloria as Hymn 693:

Glory in the highest to the God of heaven!
Peace to all your people through the earth be given!
Mighty God and Father, thanks and praise we bring,
singing Alleluia to our heavenly King.

Jesus Christ is risen, God the Father’s Son!
With the Holy Spirit, you are Lord alone!
Lamb once killed for sinners, all our guilt to bear,
show us now your mercy, now receive our prayer.

Christ the world’s true Saviour, high and holy one,
Seated now and reigning from your Father’s throne:
Lord and God, we praise you! Highest heaven adores:
in the Father's glory, all the praise be yours!

Then comes the
Collect. Once the meaning of a collect has been explained, people rarely forget, because we all know what is to ask for our basic needs to be met. That is natural … I need, I need, I need, I feed, I feed, I feed … therefore I am? A collect is literally a collection of all the intentions and favours we seek, for the Church, for ourselves, for the world.

We are all asking for something … and we should give people time to think of what they need before praying the Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In our worship, the Church of Ireland seeks a balance between Word and Sacrament. Both are important places for Christ being made present for us, for us presenting ourselves before Christ.

Colin Buchanan has summarised the Eucharist as “A Bible study, followed by a prayer meeting, followed by a meal.” And so, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word is not preliminary to, or preparation for the Eucharist. It is both proclaiming and receiving. It is an essential part, an indispensible element of every celebration.

Properly, the full Word of God should be proclaimed … Old Testament, Psalm or Biblical Canticle, New Testament and Gospel. Otherwise, we have to ask, are we saying the Old Testament has lost its validity or – even worse – suggesting the God of the Old Testament is not quite the same as the God of the New Testament?

However, the
Revised Common Lectionary provisions for the Day of Pentecost, provide the Pentecost reading [Acts 2: 1-21] for this morning, suggest it should be used in the place of the Old Testament reading [Genesis 11: 1-2, 11-18], and insist it must not be omitted. They also provide for a portion of a psalm [Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b], an Epistle reading [Romans 8: 14-17], and a Gospel reading [John 14: 8-17].

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, beginning at verse 1:

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

This morning’s psalm is Psalm 104, verses 26-36, and 37b.

26 O Lord, how manifold are your works! •
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
27 There is the sea, spread far and wide, •
and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.
28 There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan •
which you have made to play in the deep.
29 All of these look to you •
to give them their food in due season.
30 When you give it them, they gather it; •
you open your hand and they are filled with good.
31 When you hide your face they are troubled; •
when you take away their breath,
they die and return again to the dust.
32 When you send forth your spirit, they are created, •
and you renew the face of the earth.
33 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; •
may the Lord rejoice in his works;
34 He looks on the earth and it trembles; •
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
35 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; •
I will make music to my God while I have my being.
36 So shall my song please him •
while I rejoice in the Lord.
37b Bless the Lord, O my soul.

The doxology, ‘Glory to the Father ...’ may be omitted, for the Psalms are valid Biblical prayers without having to be ‘Christianised,’ and we have given our glory to God in singing Gloria. It it is traditional to omit to doxology at the end of the Psalms during Lent and Advent.

A reading from the Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, beginning at verse 17:

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

We often sing a canticle, psalm, hymn, anthem or acclamation as a gradual before proclaiming and receiving the Gospel. And that leaves us standing to receive the Word of God, facing the Gospel, which is best proclaimed and received, not from the table or the altar but among the people.

If the Gospel reader marks three Crosses on the forehead, lips, and heart, all that is being said is simply: “Please help me to love your word with my mind, keep it on my lips, and hold it in my heart.”

The Gospel Reading

Hear the Gospel of our Saviour Christ, according to Saint John, chapter 14, beginning at verse 8.
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

The word is not just proclaimed but is received, and we ought to take it for granted that at every celebration of the Eucharist there is an exposition of the World, so people can receive it, so we can own it, so we can integrate it into our faith.

And the Liturgy of the Word then naturally reaches its climax when we share in the common confession of the faith of the universal Church, the Nicene Creed. We may use other creeds in other forms of worship, but
The Book of Common Prayer insists on the Nicene Creed in the Eucharist, and on Sundays and Principal Holy Days.

We believe in one God,
the Father the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is
seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
was incarnate by the Holy Spirit
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Prayers of the People

The intercessions normally include: prayers for: the universal Church; the nations of the world; the local community; those in need; and remembrance of, and thanksgiving for, the faithful departed.

But each petition should be brief, and we should avoid making intercessions appear like a series of collects. They should be addressed directly to God, and not to the people – this is not the place for another sermon.

But bear in mind firstly that these are the prayers of the people, not of the priest, and secondly, that you do not need to pray for all things at all services. Brevity and simplicity are important, corporate silence is important, and we should not hijack the prayers of others, the piety of others, and we should not displace the importance of the Great Thanksgiving, for the Eucharist itself is the Thanksgiving par excellence, and this should never be obscured by the content of the intercessions.

Lord, in your mercy:
hear our prayer.

The Peace

We have been gathered together, we have heard God’s word together, we have found we share the same faith, we have prayed together. To draw on Colin Buchanan’s imagery, we have had our Bible study and our prayer meeting. Now, before we share the meal … are we at peace with one another?

The Peace is still objected to in some parishes. How it is introduced will shape whether it is acceptable and whether it is liturgical. In the Communion we are being reconciled with God and with one another, so this should not be any old peace.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.
If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit.

The peace of the Lord be always with you
and also with you.

Let us offer one another a sign of peace.

Celebrating at the Lord’s Table

But we have more to offer. Most people think of the offertory as the collection. But it’s not, at all. It’s about offering God back what God has offered us … food and drink to nourish us, transformed by our labour, the fruits of our labour, our sweat and toil.

And we offer that as we prepare to eat together.

Now is the time to eat together, and so before the meal we prepare the table.

In families, children love preparing the family table, love the idea of gifts being given and received. There’s not much chance of that happening at this point in a parish church if they have been sent out to Sunday school beforehand.

If the priest washes his or her hands at
Lavabo, it is good table manners. But over and over again, the Church uses water as a sign of purity and purification.

If children are preparing the table, they would love to hear these appropriate words:

Wise and gracious God,
you spread a table before us;
nourish your people with the word of life,
and the bread of heaven. Amen.

Or when the gifts are brought forward – and the most important gifts are not money but food and drink that sustain us – we might also include gifts made by the children who have come in from the Sunday School. More likely we are going to hear traditional words such as: ‘Lord, yours is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty; for all things come from you and of your own we give you.’

The Eucharist is not just words. It comes alive in action. And so there are four identifiable movements or actions we should watch out: taking, blessing, breaking and giving.

First we have the Taking of the Bread and Wine

The bread and wine are the gifts of God and the work of our hands has turned wheat and grapes and water into bread and wine ... we offer to God what God has offered to us

We sometimes get this so wrong. How often do we find the bread and wine are already on the table or altar, or on a credence table at the side where no-one can see them? If the bread is little bits of sliced pan already cut into tiny squares, how are we going to break the bread together?

And the person presiding should show they are taking this bread and wine – and this is not about elevation. Only the bishop or priest then may say: “Christ our Passover …” This is one of the roles of the president, and cannot be delegated.

Like the opening greeting, this too states clearly what we are about to do. This is no longer bread and wine for secular use. What God has given to us for our sustenance we now offer to God.

The Eucharist ... the word simply means thanksgiving

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us
therefore let us celebrate the feast.

The word Eucharist simply means thanksgiving. In a sense we are all lifting that Bread and Wine and saying thanks you for God’s gifts of life and what sustains life.

The Great Thanksgiving

There are three Great Thanksgiving Prayers in
The Book of Common Prayer. We are using Prayer 3 this morning because it looks back to the past, looks to the present, and looks to the future, because it is remembrance and anticipation – because on the Day of Pentecost – there is a true epiclesis or calling down of the Holy Spirit on us and on our gifts – because it is fully Trinitarian, and because its responses and refrains reminds us that Liturgy is the Work of the People, we are all celebrating together.

The spirit of each of these three prayers is thanksgiving. It is not supposed to be quiet, or penitential, or singular. The appropriate posture is that we are all standing, for all are celebrating. But how many people when they are leading the liturgy change this by asking people to kneel, or by asking them to kneel for the
Sanctus. The only rubric for posture in Holy Communion is Stand, and, as Bishop Harold Miller says, the normal place for presiding is behind the altar/table, with hands out-stretched throughout the prayer.

The whole prayer, and not merely the Biblical words recalling the Last Supper, is the Eucharistic Prayer. If after those words the bread and wine are raised up, it is in giving thanks. But it is the whole prayer that is what we may call the ‘consecration,’ it is all the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion.

Sieger Koder: “The breaking of the bread”

David and Peter are standing beside Patrick, not to assist him, but to symbolise that we are all gathered around together. It is not that they are assisting Patrick, but that Patrick is assisting us to celebrate. He is the servant at the Table. This is Christ’s meal … and, as the Body of Christ, it is our meal. Notice the plural language that Patrick now uses:

The Lord is here.
His Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Father, Lord of all creation,
we praise you for your goodness and your love.
When we turned away you did not reject us.
You came to meet us in your Son,
welcomed us as your children
and prepared a table where we might feast with you.

In Christ you shared our life
that we might live in him and he in us.
He opened wide his arms upon the cross and,
with love stronger than death,
he made the perfect sacrifice for sin.

Lord Jesus Christ, our redeemer,
on the night before you died
you came to table with your friends.
Taking bread, you gave thanks, broke it
and gave it to them saying,
Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of me.
Lord Jesus, we bless you:
you are the bread of life.

At the end of supper
you took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and said,
Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins;
do this in remembrance of me.
Lord Jesus, we bless you:
you are the true vine.

Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ:
dying, you destroyed our death,
rising, you restored our life;
Lord Jesus, come in glory.

Holy Spirit, giver of life,
come upon us now;
may this bread and wine be to us
the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
As we eat and drink these holy gifts
make us, who know our need of grace,
one in Christ, our risen Lord.

Earlier, we had the taking of the gifts of bread and wine. Now in the thanksgiving, in the invocation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we have the blessing. And we repeat that blessing:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Blessed Trinity:
with your whole Church throughout the world
we offer you this sacrifice of thanks and praise
and lift our voice to join the song of heaven,
for ever praising you and saying:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

Thanks be to you, our God, for your gift beyond words.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

Taking, blessing … now we are about to notice the breaking and the giving. And we prepare for this in the words of The Lord’s Prayer.

As our Saviour Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven:
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
for ever and ever. Amen.

And now we have The Breaking of the Bread, what is also called the Fraction.

The bread which we break
is a sharing in the body of Christ.
We being many are one body,
for we all share in the one bread.

We break, we share. There is no point in a meal where the food is not served. And so the fourth essential movement, after taking, blessing and breaking, is the giving … the giving and receiving. And at The Communion there is an invitation to each and every one of us, collectively and individually:

Draw near with faith.
Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which he gave for you,
and his blood which he shed for you.
Remember that he died for you,
and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

Only when the invitation has been given, should the altar party receive Communion. It would be wrong for them to receive first and then invite others; this is work of the whole Church, and there are not two categories or classes of baptised and communicant members. The rubric states specifically: the presiding minister and people receive communion, and states this after the invitation.

And if you were at a meal, how appropriate it would be for us all to serve one another, to look after each other’s needs.

The body of Christ given for you.
The blood of Christ shed for you.


Our ‘Amen’ is our Amen to Christ present to us and among us in so many ways this morning … in Word, in Sacrament, and in us collectively as the Body of Christ.

The Great Silence

When all have received Communion, all keep silence, not for some imposed act of piety, but for reflection on this awe-filled meeting with God. As the Bible reminds us constantly, the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all Wisdom.

The Blessing and Dismissal

Now we have been gathered, had our Bible study, our prayer meeting, and our meal together, we are ready for Going out as God’s People. We are ready for a Blessing to send us out into the world in mission.

Firstly, we are prepared for that with an appropriate Post Communion Prayer for the Day of Pentecost:

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal:
Open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

We think on what has happened in the past hour, and look forward to the coming week:

Almighty God,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ.
Through him we offer you our souls and bodies
to be a living sacrifice.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.

To do that we expect God’s blessing:

The Spirit of Truth lead you into all truth,
give you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
and to proclaim the words and works of God:
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

And that’s it, Let’s go!

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

And we go

Some reading:

Rosalind Brown, Christopher Cocksworth, On Being a Priest Today (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2002).
Stephen Burns, Liturgy (London: SCM Press, 2006).
Mark Earey, Liturgical Worship: a fresh look, how it works, why it matters (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
Howard E. Galley, The Ceremonies of the Eucharist, A Guide to Celebration (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications, 1989).
Richard Giles, Creating Uncommon Worship: transforming the liturgy of the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
Robert Hovda, Strong, Loving and Wise: Presiding in Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1976).
Harold Miller: The Desire of our Soul: a user’s guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Simon Jones, Celebrating the Eucharist, A Practical Guide (London: SPCK, 2011 edition, Alcuin Liturgy Guides 3).
Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Simon Jones, Celebrating Christ’s Victory, Ash Wednesday to Trinity (London: SPCK, 2009, Alcuin Liturgy Guides 6).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin). This ‘Teaching Eucharist’ was celebrated in the institute chapel on the Day of Pentecost, 19 May 2013, as part of module Spirituality on the Pastoral Formation course.

The words in red italics were read by a student-narrator.

Material in this service from The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (2004) © RCB 2004

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

Hymn 693, words © Christopher Idle/Jubilate Hymns.