14 April 2017

Reflections in Holy Week 2017 (5),
Good Friday, Saint Mary’s, Askeaton

The Crucifixion … a reredos on a side altar in the north aisle of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good Friday, 14 April 2017

8 p.m., The Good Friday Litany, Readings and Reflection,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Isaiah 52: 13 to 53: 12, Psalm 22; Hebrews 10: 16-25; John 18: 1 to 19: 42.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Throughout this week, we have been journeying together through Holy Week, with services each evening, beginning here in Saint Mary’s, Askeaton, on Monday [10 April 2017], moving on to Saint Brendan’s, Tarbert, on Tuesday [11 April], Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on Wednesday [12 April], and Castletown Church last night [13 April] for the Maundy Eucharist.

Earlier today, I took part in the Ecumenical Good Friday Service in Saint Mary’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Rathkeale, with the theme, ‘Waiting around the Cross.’

This evening, we are back here in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, to mark Good Friday with the Litany and prayers at the foot of the cross.

All this anticipates our celebration of the Resurrection, tomorrow evening in Castletown and on Easter Morning in Tarbert, Askeaton and Rathkeale.

On Good Friday, we remember the day Christ was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, on the Hill of Calvary.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer did not specify a particular way to observe Good Friday. And so, local custom came to expect an assortment of services, including the Seven Last Words from the Cross and a three-hour service consisting of Matins, the Ante-Communion (using the Reserved Sacrament in some parishes) and Evensong.

The Seven Last Words have been identified in tradition as:

● ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23: 34).

● ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23: 43).

● ‘Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother’ (John 19: 26-27).

● ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27: 46, Mark 15: 34).

● ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19: 28).

● ‘It is finished’ (John 19: 30).

● ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23: 46).

In the Church of England, recent revisions of the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship have introduced new forms for observing Good Friday. However, the Church of Ireland’s Book of Common Prayer (2004), although it introduced provisions for Ash Wednesday, makes no provisions for Good Friday, apart from the Collects, and leaves it to local tradition to decide how we observe this day.

There is no Post-Communion prayer or liturgical colour for Good Friday, which makes it implicit that there must be no celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland on Good Friday.

A float in the Good Friday procession in Barcelona last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Last year, we spent Good Friday and Easter weekend in Barcelona. There, one of the most beautiful works of architecture – indeed, one of the most beautiful churches in the world – is the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), with two façades.

The Nativity Façade depicts scenes from Christ’s birth and early life, including the Annunciation and the Incarnation. On the opposite side, the Passion Façade includes carvings of scenes from the trial, passion and crucifixion of Christ. In a very moving way, Gaudí brings together the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.

In a moving way, this link was emphasised in the street processions through the narrow streets of Barcelona on the evening of Good Friday. One float we followed had a life-sized effigy of the Pieta. The weeping Virgin Mary was cradling in her lap the body of the Crucified Christ who had been taken down from the Cross.

In that moment of searing sorrow, she must have wondered: Is this what it was all for, is this the end?

Without the benefit of foresight, she could not have known the Easter story.

In her womb she has carried the Christ Child. Now she cradles the Crucified Christ on her lap. The lap on which he had once played is now the lap on which his limp and lifeless body lies dead.

Was this the end of the journey – from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion?

But Mary’s yes was to all this: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1: 38).

Yet, all of this, birth and death, annunciation and crucifixion, remain perplexing, find no explanation, without the Resurrection. As the Apostle Paul puts it: “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain’ (I Corinthians 15: 14). And again: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (I Corinthians 15: 17-19).

Mary’s yes at the Annunciation is her yes, is our yes, is the yes of humanity and of creation, not only to the Incarnation, but to the Crucifixion, and to the Resurrection.

And so, when we go out tonight, we go out sad and mournful, but prepared for the surprise, the joy and the celebration of Easter.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Crucifixion of Christ on the Passion Façade on Antoni Gaudí’s Basilica of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
Look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This Holy Week Reflection was prepared for Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, on Good Friday, 14 April 2017.

Listening to Rachmaninov’s
‘Vespers’ on Good Friday

Patrick Comerford

Later this morning, I am taking part in a Good Friday Ecumenical Service in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, along with Father Liam Enright, the Catholic parish priest, the Revd Ruth Watt, the local Methodist minister, and David Breen of the Rathkeale Pre-Social Cohesion Group.

The theme of this one-hour service starting at 12 noon is ‘Waiting Around the Cross,’ and I have selected a recording of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Vespers to play in the background as we read and reflect on the ‘Seven Last Words.’

The advantage of this choice is that as the recording is playing in background people in the church will recognise it immediately as sacred music. But because it is in Church Slavonic, or liturgical Russian, it will enhance their listening without distracting them as they meditate on each of the readings and reflections.

Rachmaninov’s Vespers orAll-Night Vigil is an a cappella choral composition by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), his Op. 37. He composed this work in less than two weeks in January and February 1915, and it had its premiere in Moscow over 100 years ago on 23 March 1915, amid the privations of World War I and when Russia was on the brink of destruction and revolution.

This piece draws on settings of the texts sung in the Russian Orthodox All-Night Vigil. Many regard this quiet, reflective and deeply moving work not only as Rachmaninov’s finest achievement, but as ‘the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church.’

Although the entire work is generally known as Rachmaninov’s Vespers, only the first six of the 15 movements draw on texts from the Russian Orthodox canonical hour of Vespers. The composer had a deep and very personal religious faith, which he expresses beautifully in this choral work. It is separated into two parts: the evening Vespers and the morning Matins, both full of exquisitely rich harmonies.

The All Night Vigil is traditional before great religious feasts in the Orthodox tradition.

Rachmaninov followed the Church tradition of basing 10 of the 15 sections on Russian chants, including some of the ancient Znamenny chants and more recent Greek and Kievian chants, with the remaining five being more free-form. Those five were so similar to the other 10, however, that Rachmaninov even described them as ‘conscious counterfeits.’

On the scaffold of these chants Rachmaninov hangs a musical tapestry of Byzantine texture, sobriety, and power. Many of his eight-voiced choral textures remain in a flowing and chant-like homophony. His harmonic language is tonally grounded with frequent pedal points, but also rich modal and chromatic inflections.

Antiphonal textures (Nos. 2, 8, 10) and liturgical refrains (Nos. 3, 9, 11, 12) evoke the incense-choked atmospheres of the Orthodox Church.

The 15 movements are:

1, Come, Let Us Worship
2, Bless The Lord, O My Soul
3, Blessed Be The Man
4, O Gentle Light
5, Now Let Thy Servant Depart (Nunc Dimittis)
6, Rejoice, O Virgin
7, Glory To God in the Highest
8, Praise the Name of the Lord
9, Blessed Art Thou, O Lord
10, Having Beheld Resurrection of the Lord 11, My Soul Magnifies the Lord (Magnificat)
12, Glory to God in the Highest
13, Troparion: The Day of Salvation
14, Troparion: Christ is Risen from the Grave
15, Thanksgiving to the Mother of God

The fifth movement, the Orthodox Nunc Dimittis (Нынѣ отпущаеши) closes with a slow bass descent to low B flat. It was Rachmaninov’s favourite movement and the music he intended for his own funeral.

Rachmaninov died on 28 March 1943, four days before his 70th birthday, and a choir sang his All Night Vigil at his funeral.

However, the first recording of the Vespers was made only in 1965 – half a century after the first performance.

Praying in Lent 2017 with USPG,
(48) Good Friday 14 April 2017

The Crucifixion … from the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

In our pilgrimage and journey in Lent, we have arrived at Good Friday. Later today, at noon, I am taking part in a one-hour Ecumenical service in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, with the theme, ‘Waiting around the Cross.’

Every evening in Holy Week, there have been special services in the churches in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This evening’s service is the Good Friday Litany in Saint Mary’s Church, Askearon, Co Limerick, at 8 p.m.

The Lent 2017 edition of the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) follows the theme of the USPG Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life.’

Throughout Lent, I have been using this Prayer Diary for my prayers and reflections each morning, inviting you to join me in these prayers and reflections, for just a few moments each morning.

In the articles and prayers in the prayer diary, USPG invites us to investigate what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life’ (available online or to order at www.uspg.org.uk/lent), explores the idea that discipleship and authenticity are connected.

This week, from Palm Sunday (9 April) until tomorrow, Holy Saturday (15 April), the USPG Lent Prayer Diary is following the narrative of Holy Week. The topic was introduced on Sunday in an article in the Prayer Diary by Paulo Ueti, a bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

In his article, he recalled how the fourth-century Church Father, Evagrius Ponticus, says we can only encounter God if we are prepared to encounter ourselves in truth. When we can acknowledge and accept our own darkness, then we are able to accept others.

Good Friday:

Jesus cried out in a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Pray that all those who are suffering might know the comfort of Christ, who himself suffered.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
Look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.