Friday, 29 March 2013

Light in the darkness

Today’s edition of The Irish Times [29 March 2013] carries the following full-length editorial on page 15:

Light in the

The snow that has blanketed Ireland and Britain for the past week gives the landscape an appearance that is more appropriate for scenes on Christmas cards than for contemplating the significance of Good Friday and Easter. It is just possible, in a moment of fantasy, to imagine congregations in churches across the land this weekend singing In the bleak mid-winter. Christina Rossetti’s poem, set to music by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke, was named some years ago in a poll of choir directors and choral experts as the best Christmas carol. But in this poem and carol, Christina Rossetti seeks to link the message of the incarnation at Christmas with the triumph and hope of Easter as she writes:

Our God, heav’n cannot hold him
nor earth sustain;
heav'n and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign …

In an unusual coincidence, last week saw the beginning of the reigns of a new pope and a new Archbishop of Canterbury. Yet both church leaders, with patterns of leadership that are marked by personal humility and effacement, would eschew words like “reign” that imply monarchical styles of leadership. Instead, both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby appear to be keen to pattern their style of leadership on Christ as the Suffering Servant rather than on prelates from the past who ruled like reigning princes.

* * * * *

St John’s Gospel, in its account of Holy Week and Good Friday, puts love at the heart of Christian faith and hope. Pope Francis celebrated his Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the chapel of Casal del Marmo, a juvenile prison in Rome where most of the inmates are foreign-born and Muslim, some have no religious beliefs, and until his visit many had probably not known of the pope.

All previous popes in living memory have said this Mass either in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican or in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome. It was a humble act of love typical of those marking out this papacy as different from all others, and it rings true with Christ’s own words after he washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 16).

Archbishop Welby also arrived in humility at Canterbury Cathedral last week. He came as a pilgrim rather than in triumph, having spent the previous days on what was described as his “Journey in Prayer,” kneeling in prayer in a pilgrimage that brought him through the dioceses of the Church of England. Before he took up office, Pope-Emeritus Benedict wrote to the new archbishop reminding him that “the preacher’s task, as a messenger of hope, is to speak the truth with love, shedding the light of Christ into the darkness of people’s lives.”

This humility and servant-ministry from church leaders resonate throughout Europe this week, bringing light and hope into the darkness and the gloom that has been created not just by the weather, but by a financial crisis that seems to be biting even deeper, with everyone now feeling the consequences of the uncertainties created in Cyprus.

How many would pray this Good Friday that the humility of church leaders would be taken up as a moral course by our political leaders? Who can provide hope for the mother struggling to pay the mortgage and for childcare and who fears being told to give up her job? Who can bring hope to the family burdened by debt and without health insurance but facing mounting medical bills? Who can offer hope to the families of young suicide victims or of young graduates unable to find employment and forced to emigrate, perhaps never to return?

* * * * *

Of course, politicians cannot offer immediate remedies; and the problems our economies face need to be solved on a European scale too. But both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby - in following Christ’s example of leadership, marked by humility on the evening before his crucifixion - have shown a fresh and much-needed approach to leadership, that reaches out to the marginalised, those without hope, those living in darkness. It is hard to believe in this unusual wintery weather that the clocks go forward tomorrow night and that summer time officially begins on Sunday morning.

But both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby have already shown that humility and compassion shine light in the darkness, offering real hope in the midst of despair and demonstrating true leadership that is often cruelly lacking. They offer gripping challenges to our politicians and their styles of leadership.

Good Friday and Easter in Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral … three days of prayer, retreat and liturgy from Good Friday to Easter Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Lichfield for the end of Holy Week and Easter in Lichfield Cathedral from today, Good Friday [29 March 2013], until Easter Day [31 March 2013], having taken part in the Chrism Eucharist and the renewal of ordination vows in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, yesterday.

These Three Days (Triduum) are marked by the Eucharist of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, through the Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday, to the dismal silent emptiness of Holy Saturday, relieved by the merest murmur of liturgical contribution, and on into the darkness and light of the Easter Liturgy, which will be kept in Lichfield Cathedral at 5 a.m. on Easter Morning.

There is a full programme of worship and events in Lichfield Cathedral for the Three Days leading up to the Easter Vigil.

The Vigil is being followed on Easter morning with a celebration breakfast in College Hall in the Cathedral Close. Hopefully, by then, the birds will be singing, the sun will be shining, echoing the Easter proclamation.

The Liturgy of Good Friday at noon today is sung by the Cathedral Choir and the Chamber Choir, with the Rite of Preparation, the Liturgy of the Passion, the Proclamation of the Cross, and Prayers of Intercession and Liturgy of the Sacrament.

This evening, at 7.30 p.m., Ecumenical Worship has been organised by the Cathedral and Churches Together in Lichfield.

Tomorrow morning (Holy Saturday, 30 March), ‘They came to the tomb’ is the title of a stational office at 9.30 a.m., with prayers for those preparing the cathedral for the Easter Proclamation. In the evening, Choral Evensong is at 5.30 p.m.

On Easter Day (Sunday, 31 March), the Easter Liturgy begins early in the morning at 5 a.m. in relative darkness, which is illumined by the new fire, kindled at the west front, and by the Paschal candle. This Easter Vigil lasts about 2½ hours, and with its beauty and drama it is something I do not want to miss.

It begins outside with the lighting of a fire and the hallowing of the Easter Candle We shall then move inside for the singing of the hauntingly wonderful Exultet, in which we join the angels in praising Christ for his victory over darkness.

We then hear the history of God’s dealings with humanity in the Scriptures, each reading followed by a plainsong psalm sung by a choir. We then hear the Gospel and a homily, this year by the Canon Treasurer and Archdeacon of Lichfield, the Ven Chris Liley.

The baptismal font in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We move then to the font for the renewal of our own baptismal life and promises. Finally, we move into quire for the first Eucharist of Easter at the cathedral high altar.

Later on Easter morning, there is Holy Communion (BCP) at 8 a.m., Morning Prayer at 8.45 a.m., Sung Eucharist with Renewal of Baptismal Vows at 10.30 a.m., with the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra accompanying the Cathedral Choir in a programme of Mozart, and Solemn Evensong at 3.30 p.m.

This is a very personal retreat, and in between these liturgies, I plan to find time for reflection and prayer, walks in the cathedral city and the countryside, and some time with friends.

Wise words from Dr Samuel Johnson in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, Lichfield ... I am staying here for the Easter Weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

With the Saints in Lent (45): John Keble, 29 March

John Keble (1792-1866) … his poems in ‘The Christian Year’ include ‘Good Friday’

Patrick Comerford

John Keble (1792-1866) was an Anglican priest and poet, Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement. He was born on Saint Mark’s Day, 25 April 1792, in Fairford, Gloucestershire, where his father, the Revd John Keble, a former Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was Vicar of Coln St Aldwyn’s.

John Keble received his early education in his father’s vicarage, and at 14 he won a scholarship to Oxford University. He studied at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and in 1810, at the age of 18, he graduated with a double first in classics and mathematics.

In 1811, he became a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and for some years, he was a tutor and examiner in the University of Oxford. While he was at Oxford, he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Oxford on Trinity Sunday 1815, and priest in 1816.

He became first a curate to his father, and then curate of Saint Michael’s and Saint Martin's Church, Eastleach Martin, in Gloucestershire.

In 1827, he published The Christian Year, which appeared in 1827. He wrote the poems to restore a deep feeling for the Church Year among Anglicans, and it received such great acclaim that its became the most popular volume of verse in the 19th century. One of the most popular poems in The Christian Year is the well-known hymn, ‘New every morning,’ with its opening lines:

New ev’ry morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove:
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.

The Christian Year went into 95 editions in his lifetime, and b the time the copyright expired in 1873, over 375,000 copies had been sold in Britain and 158 editions had been published.

The success of The Christian Year led to Keble being appointed Professor of Poetry in Oxford University, a post he held from 1831 to 1841.

The University Church of Saint Mary, Oxford, where John Keble preached his Assize Sermon in 1833 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the 1830s, Parliament legislated to abolish ten bishoprics in the Church of Ireland. Keble vigorously attacked this legislation for undermining the independence of the Church, and two years after becoming Professor of Poetry, he preached his famous Assize Sermon on “national apostasy.”

The text of the sermon was I Samuel 12: 23, “As for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.”

This sermon in Saint Mary’s University Church in 1833 was the spark that ignited the Oxford Movement. The members of the Oxford Movement began to publish a series, Tracts for the Times, that gave them the popular name “Tractarians.” These tracts sought to recall the Church to its ancient sacramental heritage.

John Henry Newman was the intellectual leader of the movement, Edward Bouverie Pusey was the prophet of its devotional life, and John Keble was its pastoral inspiration.

However, Keble’s passionate desire was to be a faithful parish priest, finding fulfilment in the daily services, confirmation classes, visiting the village schools, and corresponding with those seeking spiritual counsel. In 1835 he was appointed Vicar of Hursley, Hampshire, where he settled down to family life and remained for the rest of his life as a parish priest at All Saints’ Church.

In 1836, he edited an edition of Richard Hooker’s works with critical notes, and he also wrote a Life of Bishop Wilson for the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology.

The most important of his prose writings, however, was his treatise on Eucharistic Adoration, was written in support of Archdeacon Denison, who had been attacked for two sermons preached in Wells Cathedral in which he stated that the Body and Blood of Christ are received by those who eat and drink unworthily, and that worship is due to the real though invisible presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist under the forms of bread and wine.

On refusing to retract these statements, Archdeacon Denison was deprived of his vicarage and archdeaconry, but this sentence was overthrown by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1858. Keble had published his treatise in the previous year, after the sentence of deprivation had been pronounced.

John Keble died on 29 March 1866 at the age of 74, and was buried at Hursley on 6 April. After his death, 12 volumes of his sermons were published by Pusey and other friends. Pusey said of these that their chief characteristics are affectionate simplicity and intense reality.

Within three years of his death, Keble College was established at Oxford “to give an education in strict fidelity to the Church of England.” For Keble, this would have meant dedication to learning in order “to live more nearly as we pray.”

Keble’s feast day is kept in the Church of England on 14 July, the anniversary of his Assize Sermon in Oxford, but on 29 March, the anniversary of his death, elsewhere in other parts of the Anglican Communion, including the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in the US.

However, because today [29 March 2013] is Good Friday, few parishes are likely to recall John Keble today. Yet today is a suitable day for reading once again one of his poems in The Christian Year, ‘Good Friday’:

Good Friday, by John Keble

Is it not strange, the darkest hour
That ever dawned on sinful earth
Should touch the heart with softer power
For comfort than an angel’s mirth?
That to the Cross the mourner’s eye should turn
Sooner than where the stars of Christmas burn?

Sooner than where the Easter sun
Shines glorious on yon open grave,
And to and fro the tidings run,
“Who died to heal, is risen to save?”
Sooner than where upon the Saviour’s friends
The very Comforter in light and love descends?

Yet so it is: for duly there
The bitter herbs of earth are set,
Till tempered by the Saviour’s prayer,
And with the Saviour’s life-blood wet,
They turn to sweetness, and drop holy balm,
Soft as imprisoned martyr’s deathbed calm.

All turn to sweet – but most of all
That bitterest to the lip of pride,
When hopes presumptuous fade and fall,
Or Friendship scorns us, duly tried,
Or Love, the flower that closes up for fear
When rude and selfish spirits breathe too near.

Then like a long-forgotten strain
Comes sweeping o’er the heart forlorn
What sunshine hours had taught in vain
Of JESUS suffering shame and scorn,
As in all lowly hearts he suffers still,
While we triumphant ride and have the world at will.

His pierced hands in vain would hide
His face from rude reproachful gaze,
His ears are open to abide
The wildest storm the tongue can raise,
He who with one rough word, some early day,
Their idol world and them shall sweep for aye away.

But we by Fancy may assuage
The festering sore by Fancy made,
Down in some lonely hermitage
Like wounded pilgrims safely laid,
Where gentlest breezes whisper souls distressed,
That Love yet lives, and Patience shall find rest.

O! shame beyond the bitterest thought
That evil spirit ever framed,
That sinners know what Jesus wrought,
Yet feel their haughty hearts untamed –
souls in refuge, holding by the Cross,
Should wince and fret at this world’s little loss.

Lord of my heart, by Thy last cry,
Let not Thy blood on earth be spent –
Lo, at Thy feet I fainting lie,
Mine eyes upon Thy wounds are bent,
Upon Thy streaming wounds my weary eyes
Wait like the parched earth on April skies.

Wash me, and dry these bitter tears,
O let my heart no further roam,
’Tis Thine by vows, and hopes, and fears.
Long since – O call Thy wanderer home;
To that dear home, safe in Thy wounded side,
Where only broken hearts their sin and shame may hide.


Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant John Keble, we may accomplish with integrity and courage what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11; Psalm 26: 1-8; Romans 12: 9-21; Matthew 5: 1-12.

Tomorrow (30 March): Saint John Klimakos.

St Patrick’s-tide celebrations

Today’s edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [29 March 2013] carries the following photograph and report on page 5:

St Patrick’s-tide celebrations

Pictured following a special, cross-border, ecumenical St Patrick’s Day Festival Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, are (left to right) Ian Keatley, director of music at Christ Church Cathedral; Dean Dermot Dunne; Archbishop Michael Jackson; the Very Revd Dr Hugh Kennedy, administrator of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Belfast; Canon Patrick Comerford (preacher); and Nigel McClintock, director of music at St Peter’s Cathedral. (Photo: Lynn Glanville).