28 May 2023
Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (50) 28 May 2023
The Easter season enters its final day today, the Day of Pentecost (28 May 2023), or Whit Sunday.
A note on the Easter Season in the service booklets in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, and Saint George’s Church, Wolverton, reminds us:
‘The Great Fifty Days of Eastertide is where the joy created on Easter Day is sustained through the following seven weeks, and the Church celebrates the gloriously risen Christ.
‘The Paschal Candle we lit on Easter Day stands prominently in our church for all the Eastertide services. The Alleluia appears frequently in the liturgy, speech and song, and white or gold vestments and decorations emphasise the joy and brightness of the season.
‘On the fortieth day of Easter, there is a particular celebration of Christ's ascension. He commissions his disciples to continue his work, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then he is no longer among them in the flesh. The ascension is therefore closely connected with the theme of mission.
‘The arrival of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost completes and crowns the Easter Festival.’
As the booklet for the midday Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral reminds me: ‘The Great Fifty Days of Eastertide form a single festival period in which the tone of joy created at the Easter Vigil is sustained through the following seven weeks, and the Church celebrates the gloriously risen Christ’.
Later this morning I hope to be at the Parish Eucharist celebrating Pentecost in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton. Later this afternoon, as part of the celebrations for Pentecost, the church is sharing a Taizé service, a reflective service of music, silences, scripture and prayer, including prayers for healing.
Ordinary Time resumes tomorrow.
But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. I am reflecting each morning during Easter and Ascensiontide in these ways:
1, Looking at images or stained glass windows in a church or cathedral I know;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
‘Pentecost’ by Titian, the Church Santa Maria della Salute, Venice:
This morning, on the Day of Pentecost, I am looking back on a recent visit to the Church Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, where the treasures include Titian’s painting of ‘Pentecost’ or ‘the Descent of the Holy Spirit.’
In A Passage to India (1924), EM Forster describes Salute, one of the most painted and depicted churches in Venice, as ‘holding the entrance of a canal which, but for it, would not be the Grand Canal.’
Santa Maria della Salute is at the southern-most entrance to the Grand Canal. The dome of the Salute is an emblem of the skyline of Venice and the church and its silhouette have inspired artists from Canaletto to Turner and Sargent.
This baroque church stands between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, at the Bacino di San Marco, on the narrow finger of Punta della Dogana. It can be seen clearly from the waterfront at the Piazza San Marco.
Although Salute is best-known for the dome that makes it an architectural landmark, its spacious, light-filled interior – like so many churches in Venice – is filled with artistic treasures.
So often, people raise their glasses in Italy with the toast Salute!. It might be too easy to translate this as ‘Cheers!’ or ‘Your health!’ But the name of this church is associated with prayers for the health of Venice and deliverance from the plague almost 400 years ago.
The Salute is one of the so-called ‘plague churches’ in Venice and its full name is Santa Maria della Salute: Saint Mary of Health, or Saint Mary of Deliverance.
After Venice was devastated in an outbreak of the plague in 1630, the Serene Republic agreed to build a church dedicated to Our Lady of Health or of Deliverance as a thank-offering for the city’s deliverance. The church was designed by the architect Baldassare Longhena, who studied under Vincenzo Scamozzi.
Venice was devastated by a the plague in a wave that began in the summer of 1630 and continued into 1631, killing almost one-third of the population of the city. In all, 46,000 people died in the city, and 94,000 more died in the lagoon and the surrounding islands.
As they prayed for an end to the plague, the people of Venice held processions and public displays of the Blessed Sacrament, with processions to the churches of San Rocco and San Lorenzo Giustiniani. Over half a century earlier, during another plague attack in 1575-1576, the city had responded by commissioning Andrea Palladio to design the Church of Il Redentore (the Redeemer) on Giudecca.
On 22 October 1630, Church and State responded as the Venetian Senate decreed that a new church should be built, dedicated not to a another ‘plague’ saint or patron but to the Virgin Mary, who was revered as a protector of the Republic.
But the Senators also wanted a monumental church in a place that could be reached easily from Saint Mark’s Square. The location was chosen from among eight potential locations, partially because it was possible to link it with San Giorgio, San Marco and Il Redentore, and the four churches form an arc in Venice. The Salute also stands close by the custom house or Dogana da Mar, the symbol of the maritime commerce of Venice, and near the civic centre of the city.
At first, the Patriarch of Venice opposed the location of the church. He owned a church and seminary that stood on the site until the dispute was resolved. Eventually, building work began in 1631.
The architect Baldassare Longhena was only 26 when he was chosen by the Senate in a 66-29 vote to design the new church.
The Salute was novel in many ways, showing the influence of Palladian classicism and the domes of Venice. But this octagonal church is also influenced by Byzantine designs, including the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna.
Salute is a vast, octagonal building with two domes and a pair of bell-towers, designed by Longhena as a crown-like church. However, the decorative circular building also looks like a reliquary, a ciborium, or an embroidered, inverted chalice that shelters the piety of Venice. It is full of Marian symbolism: the great dome represents her crown, the cavernous interior her womb, and the eight sides the eight points on her symbolic star.
Salute stands on a platform made of a million wooden piles, and is built of Istrian stone and marmorino or brick covered with marble dust. At the top of the pediment, a statue of the Virgin Mary presides over the church. The façade is decorated with figures of Saint George, Saint Theodore, the Four Evangelists, the Prophets, and Judith with the head of Holofernes. Recently, the statues of the four evangelists have been identified as the work of Tommaso Rues.
Inside, the church is octagonal with eight radiating chapels on the outer row. The three altars to the right of the main entrance are decorated with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary by Luca Giordano: the Presentation, the Assumption and the Nativity, and there is a painting by Titian of Pentecost or the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
Longhena himself designed the Baroque high altar, which displays a 12th or 13th century icon from Crete of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, known in Greek as Panagia Mesopantitisa, the ‘Virgin Mediator’ or the ‘Virgin Negotiator.’ The icon was brought to Venice from Iraklion in 1669 when the capital of Crete was captured by the Ottoman Turks.
The group of statues above the high altar shows the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven driving the Plague out of Venice. This theatrical Baroque masterpiece was executed in 1670 by the Flemish sculptor Josse de Corte.
Tintoretto painted the ‘Marriage at Cana’ in the great sacristy, which includes a self-portrait. Titian painted Saint Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas, Damian, Sebastian and Roch, seen in the altarpiece in the sacristy, as well as ceiling paintings of David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac and Cain and Abel, and eight tondi of the eight Doctors of the Church and the Evangelists, all in the great sacristy, and the Pentecost in the nave.
The church was not completed until 1681, shortly before Longhena died. He wrote:
‘I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the … shape of a crown.’
Later he wrote: ‘It is a virgin work, never before seen, curious, worthy and beautiful, made in the form of a round monument that has never been seen, nor ever before invented, neither altogether, nor in part, in other churches in this most serene city.’
Longhena’s last great work in Venice before he died is the Ca’Pesaro, a colossal baroque palace on the Grand Canal.
The Senate agreed to visit the church each year. On 21 November, the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, or the Festa della Madonna della Salute, the city officials paraded from San Marco to the Salute for a service in gratitude for deliverance from the plague. This involved crossing the Grand Canal on a specially-built pontoon, and this parade is still a major event in Venice each year.
As time passed, the dome of the Salute became an important landmark on the Venetian skyline and it soon became an emblem of the city, inspiring painters from Canaletto (1697-1768) to JMW Turner (1775-1851) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).
Acts 2: 1-21 (NRSVA):
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.”’
John 20: 19-23 (NRSVA):
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Pentecost.’ USPG’s Chaplain, the Revd Jessie Anand, introduces this theme this morning, reflecting on Pentecost and languages:
‘On the first day of Pentecost, hearing people speak in different languages and understanding the mighty works of God was a first-hand experience. Today in the world church, Pentecost reminds us of the importance of gathering multilingual worshippers to witness Christian unity.
‘In the Philippines, Filipino Christians from 7,640 islands, and speaking many different mother tongues, worship in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) and the Episcopal Church. There are 183 languages in the country. Among them, Tagalog and English are the official languages. The presence of multilingual worshippers in Philippine’s churches, and their witness in their communities, certainly promotes the Pentecostal experience in the life journey of Filipino Christians.
‘In Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral at Quezon City in Manila, the worshippers had a vision to include deaf people and people who do not speak. Many worshippers have undertaken sign language training which helps to unite all worshippers in a meaningful Pentecostal experience. No one is excluded on grounds of language.
‘Pentecost enables us to rise above the limitations of our own languages. It is transformative and demonstrates the inclusive nature of God’s kingdom.’
The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Sunday 28 May 2023):
O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your Church with life and power;
O Breath of life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your Church to meet this hour.
– Elizabeth Ann Head (1850-1936).
God, who as at this time
taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgement in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
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.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org