Bring flowers of the rarest,
bring blossoms the fairest,
From garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
Our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling;
The praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!
O Mary we crown thee
with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels
and Queen of the May
Following the 10.30 Mass
Let us sing hymns to Mary, honouring our Mother & Queen
My dear brothers and sisters,
I picture you gathered at Saint Michael and All Angels on the eve of this Paschal Triduum. Sadly, Covid prevents me from being with you and so I want my first word to be one of welcome and thanks to Bishop Stephen Wright who has generously travelled from Birmingham to stand in my place this evening.
It seems especially appropriate that we gather at Woodchurch, which was the scene of the last diocesan celebration before the lockdown of March 2020. The Chrism Mass is celebrated as Lent draws to its close and in anticipation of the Easter Triduum. It is a moment of rejoicing in the gift and grace of God as we echo the words of the Psalmist: “I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord.” This thanksgiving has special poignancy after two years of a pandemic, and I want us to reflect this evening on ‘the great return’ witnessed in our parishes; and how this must lead us to joyfully recognise the presence of Christ anew.
The Gospel recounts the failure to make this joyful discovery. The people of Nazareth looked intently at Jesus, “All eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him”.[i] They looked and yet failed to see the Christ, the Anointed One. Impressed by His gracious words they would reject the One who spoke, rising-up with homicidal intent to throw Him down the cliffside on which Nazareth is built. This scene foreshadows His Passion. And we now face the same, unavoidable challenge to accept or reject the claims and the person of the same Jesus Christ.
We glimpse something of this drama in the happy return witnessed in our parishes since the end of the first lockdown. This has not been a mere return of habit rather an invitation ‘to return to the Eucharist with joy.’ The joy of recognising Jesus Christ anew. In the words of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, this is an invitation to an encounter with “An event, a person which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”– the encounter we come to in the Holy Eucharist.[ii] This is a rediscovery of the heart of the Church’s life, and we want to encourage many more to share our joy.
My brother priests experienced this invitation during the months of lockdown standing alone at the Altar in the strange emptiness of our churches. In both solitude and by utilizing every creative means to ‘virtually’ connect people with the Mystery of the Eucharist, we were able to glimpse anew the Sacrifice and Sacrament which is the unfailing source of the Church’s life. We glimpsed with a renewed joy the vital place of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as we heard confessions in carparks and makeshift situations. The extreme efforts made to bring the Sacraments to the sick and the dying also recalled the vital place of the Church’s ministry in those supreme moments of human and spiritual crisis. Tonight, we also cannot fail to recall with some emotion, the remarkable response of clergy and people to the challenging and ever-changing circumstances of the pandemic. We did not forget the poor, nor neglect the isolated in our communities. It was your own generous efforts which enabled the re-opening of our churches and allowed them to remain open as among the safest of places. And I have no doubt it was your steadfast witness that led the government to recognise public worship as an ‘essential service’ for the well-being of society. Truly, a witness of faith that will be long remembered.
Tonight, I want us to see ‘the return’ being witnessed in our parishes and the celebration of this Easter Triduum as a personal invitation to re-discover all that has been given us in the life of the Church. For we are being invited to recognise Christ’s Sacrifice when we obey His command “Do this in memory of me”; His Ministerial Priesthood instituted in the same moment as the Eucharist; His call of perfect love in every Christian vocation and the invitation to lift up our hearts in daily prayer; the strength of His anointing received in Baptism and Confirmation and offered in the hour of sickness including our last; His grace and mercy awaiting us in the Sacrament of Confession; His Cross and Passion in which we are invited to take our small share; the Scriptures which speak of Him and unfold the story of salvation; and His risen, living presence in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In recognising His grace and presence anew, we can never hesitate to say: “I will sing forever of your love, O Lord.”
May Our Lady, Help of Christians accompany us; and assist many souls this Easter to return to the Eucharist and the Sacraments, with a joy that will never end!
Bishop of Shrewsbury
[i] Lk. 4:20 [ii] Deus Caritas Est & Evangelii Gaudium no. 7
It is a pious custom to bless Christian homes during the Paschal season. The Roman Ritual contains a special blessing for this purpose in honour of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you would like one of the Canons to bless your home during Eastertide, please contact them to schedule a visit to your home. Contact information can be found here.
My dear brothers and sisters,
Christ’s victory over the temptations in the wilderness is recounted at the beginning of every Lent. In each temptation, the Devil proposes to Our Lord a seemingly easier path to accomplish His mission than the Sacrifice of the Cross and His total self-giving in the Eucharist. Turning the desert’s stones into free food, seizing political power or becoming a spectacle to entertain the crowds might momentarily win applause, but will not save humanity. These temptations are recounted because we can be tempted to seek deceptively easier paths in our Christian lives and in the mission of the Church. It is why we need this Lenten time of conversion so we may truly “worship the Lord our God and serve Him alone”.
This year, in our parishes we are re-starting in adverse conditions and with diminished resources. We are deeply concerned for the Ukrainian people and the peace of the world as the shadow of war has fallen over Europe. At such a moment, I want us to be sure of the inexhaustible resources of faith and grace given us. As Saint Paul reminded the beleaguered faithful in Rome, by relying on the Name of the Lord we will never lack all we need.ii Diminished we might be, as we emerge from a pandemic, yet we can never doubt from our Baptism, that we have been sustained by every grace, above all, the supreme gift of the Holy Eucharist.
Thanksgiving must surely be our starting point, in recognition of all we have received in the life of the Church. Thanksgiving is the characteristic of Christian prayer.iii I was especially struck by the words of the last testament of the saintly Pope Paul VI, who constantly repeated “Lord, I thank you.” Pope Paul asked, how can we ever thank the Lord sufficiently for the gift of life and the still higher gift of faith and grace. So many graces, so many mercies, so many examples given us. Above all, Saint Paul VI insisted we must give thanks that we have been brought into the life of the Catholic Church where all the means of grace and salvation are found.iv
The people of Macclesfield will this year give thanks for 200 years of renewed Catholic mission in their district. As we look back with them to the founding generation of our Diocese, we recall how “few in number”v they were and lacking in material resources; yet they knew the gifts of faith and grace were their true riches. As Saint John Vianney reflected, we might see ourselves as poor when vast riches of grace have been given us in prayer, in the Sacrament of Penance and, above all, in the Eucharist. The Cure of Ars compared us to someone dying of thirst beside an immense river of fresh water. If only we would reach out, he said, yet we fail to see! Lent is an invitation to recognise God’s grace and the very presence of Christ Himself is now within our reach.
This Sunday, we pray for the Ukrainian people and for the peace of the world in response to Pope Francis’s call to draw upon the spiritual resources of Lent to overcome “the madness of war”.vi The Holy Father has echoed the call of Our Lady at Fatima who entrusted this same message to poor children, amid the carnage and destruction of the First World War. The children of Fatima, two of whom have been declared among the Saints by Pope Francis,vii had no human means to end a war, yet recognised the power of prayer, of receiving and adoring the Eucharist, of offering the small sacrifices of each day with great love. This Lent invites us to take up these same means as we intercede for peace and unite our prayer and penance to the practical help we offer to the suffering.
In the great re-start of Lent, let us recognise the gifts and graces which mark our Christian lives; above all the supreme gift of the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Altar. Let us return to the Altar and the Tabernacle of our parishes in the joyful recognition of faith and prayer, and wherever possible in prolonged Eucharistic Adoration. This is surely the best place for us to start anew.
United with you in this prayer,
Bishop of Shrewsbury
i Cf. Mt. 4: 10; Lk. 4:8
ii Cf. Rom. 10: 13
iii Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2637
iv Cf. The Second Vatican Council Unitatis Redintegratio No.3
v Dt. 26:28
vi CF. General Audience, Wednesday 23rd February 2022
vii Cf. Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco Canonised by Pope Francis in May 2017