This weekend we begin our annual journey of spiritual renewal as we commemorate, remember, and celebrate the events of the first Holy Week. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for those in our churches there will be the opportunity to participate in the unique yearly Liturgical actions. They will be abbreviated, devoid of some familiar communal actions, and much shorter than we have grown used to since the Vatican Council of the 1960’s opened them up for us to benefit from in all their richness and symbolism. However, after the solitary celebrations of last year, at least there will be congregations! Wherever you may be on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday I hope that you will pause to reflect on the significance of these days for all of us, perhaps at the time that some of us will be gathered in one of our churches. To assist with this I’m offering a short reflection for each day. Their differing styles represent diversity in authorship chosen in an attempt to appeal to the broadest audience. If I were in teacher-mode, I would suggest that you focus on your feet for the Holy (Maundy) Thursday reflection, handle a crucifix (perhaps the one at the end of the Rosary beads you cherish) on Good Friday, and imagine a Church in radiant celebration on Holy Saturday.
Wherever you may be physically over the forthcoming days, may I assure you that together with your loved ones and the story of the unfolding journey of your own and their lives, we will be united by faith and affection as I preside at Liturgies commemorating, remembering and celebrating the events of Holy Week in our churches at Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas
Give me your feet: a reflection for Maundy Thursday.
Holy Thursday. Maundy Thursday. And I am thinking of that night so long ago. I am putting myself in the scene, this soul-weary, overweight, middle-aged black woman who needs Jesus with everything in me. In my mind I am there with the disciples. I am present with my Jesus. You are there, too. Can you see it? The upper room in the drafty edifice, us stumbling in exhausted. We are starving. It’s just before the Passover Feast. So much has happened. So much will happen.
We gather together for a simple supper. Even Jesus has a kind of weight-of-the-world weariness about him. He’s talked a lot about going away lately, but He is fully present now, and His love has arms that hold us close. Still, a sadness lingers in His eyes. It reminds me of how the poet-prophet Isaiah describes Him, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. (cf. Isaiah 53:3)
The table is set, and we recline where we’re seated, grateful to be with Him. Our cups are lined like guards before us, full of wine. A basket of bread lies in the centre of the table. Later He will tell us the wine is His blood poured out, and the bread His body broken. Later. Now we sit. Night, as thick and palpable as fog, surrounds us. The flames on the candles bow and rise in the breezy room, as if they too, worship our Lord.
Then Jesus sets aside His outer garments and dons an apron like a slave would wear. He pours water in a basin. We exchange puzzled looks.
“Give me your feet,” He says.
We are stunned silent, each of us carefully removing our sandals, unsure of what to say, what to do, faced with such shocking humility. Foot washing is the worst of tasks, despised by a servants gesture. Yet Jesus kneels before us, one by one, and washes our feet. I watch Him move from person to person. Dear God, Jesus is on His knees, pouring water on our rough soles. The Son of God, the Son of Man, washes us as if the pitcher contains, then releases, His own tears. The water slips between our toes, and the filth of the world falls to the ground, ground now hallowed by His presence. We couldn’t help but feel emotional. Some of us wailed as He worked.
He sure knows how to make a mess of things.
When He gets to me I choke out his name, “Oh, Jesus,” I cry. Hot salty tears roll from my cheeks, and drop onto Jesus’ hand as He reaches up to wipe my face. “Master, let me wash yours,” I beg him. He gently, but firmly refuses me. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this,” He says to me.
“I can’t let you wash my feet,” I say.
He speaks kindly to me. “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing.” So I let him wash me, my Jesus, dressed as a slave, as I sit there, amazed.
He cleanses us all, every one of us. “Do you understand what I have done to you?” He asks. His brown eyes shine in the candlelight. “You address me as ‘Teacher,’ ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.” (cf. John 13:12-17)
Act like it, and live a blessed life.
Jesus makes things so messy, and then sets them right with such a simple, homely message, but it is good news. When He is done with you, you are washed as white as snow.
It wasn’t too long after that last meal that He left us, only to return in three days, and go again, leaving us with His Holy Spirit. As I reflect on that day, I hear the sound of His voice, resonate, yet soft, and feel His breath warm on my face, as He leaned into me and asked me, ‘give me your feet.’
I think of this every Maundy Thursday, as we world weary travellers, parched and, hurting, and oh so vulnerable, gather. We are looking for Jesus, needing water, and trusting our souls, and soles to His servants. Sometimes we sit shoulder to shoulder reclined. Waiting. Humbled. Remembering. And our feet are washed clean, while God’s slave cradles them in the circle of his tear-stained hands.
The Word made Flesh on the Hill of Calvary. A reflection for Good Friday.
Jesus, God’s suffering servant, was there. “They crucified Him.”
Jesus, the man of prayer, was there. “Father, forgive them.”
Jesus, the merciful was there, “They do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus, the friend of sinners, was there. “Two robbers were crucified with Him.”
Jesus, the rejected King, was there. “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”
Jesus, the kind man, was there. “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus, the man, was there. “I am thirsty.”
Jesus, the son of Mary, was there. “Mother, behold your son.”
Jesus, the Son of God, was there. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Jesus, the ransom for our sins, was there. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?”
Jesus, the perfect Saviour, was there. “It is finished.”
Jesus, the victor over death was there. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus, the judge of all, was NOT there. NO word of condemnation.
A reflection for Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil and first Mass of Easter.
The following reflection was written by a commissioned Lay Minister within a different Faith tradition to that of Catholicism. The author was very much a daughter of the Word and for the majority of her life followed a Faith in which Sacred Scripture was primary, and the celebration of any form of Sacrament secondary. However, like Nicodemus in the Gospel of St. John, steeped in her own tradition, an inner thirst and hunger to grow to know Almighty God better drew her to attending a celebration of the Liturgy of Holy Saturday night in 1987. This experience together with a great eye for detail and a surprising awareness of the symbolism of the Liturgy, given her background, inspired her to write these words:-
Beloved in Christ ! For the rest of your life you will remember tonight. Its solemnity, its majesty, is richness and its beauty will remain stamped indelibly on your hearts.
You have seen the new fire blessed. A symbol of the holy fire which Our Lord kindles in your hearts. A fire which, please God, will glow brightly in Christ’s service.
You have listened to the words of Holy Scripture, may they become as lavender between the pages of your life.
The font had been blessed and in Christ’s name you have been baptized, washing away all sin. Out of the old endings of past times has been born a new beginning. The beginning of a new life, rich with promise.
You have become partakers of Christ’s Body, broken for us. In receiving the Holy Eucharist you have received Christ Himself. He died for you and now He lives in you, the guest of your body and your being.
Tonight is a mountain top experience, soon you will return to the lowlands of duty. To the world of men and women, who by their own choice walk other paths, other ways, pushing Christ aside, and deny Him access to their hearts and lives.
In the sin sick and sorrow torn world of today Our Lord asks you His chosen to witness for Him.
The congregation here have renewed their vows as you have made yours. In the fellowship of Christ they offer you something richer and stronger than any society born of this world could offer. To the beauty of this sanctuary you will return again and again, in an act of penitence to make your peace with Almighty God, and in humility and sincerity to partake of the Holy Eucharist. Outside these blessed walls you will strive to live a life of witness to Christ, by the strength and sustenance you receive inside.
Becoming a committed Catholic does not offer you a charmed life. It does not exclude you from trials and temptations, many times you will be weary, many times hurt, and sometimes, being human, you will feel slighted, perhaps even rejected.
In such days what will you do ? And to whom will you turn ? Why ! back to the Risen Lord who has promised “My grace is sufficient for all your needs.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) The service Our Lord asks of you only you can give, no one else. Your place here in this church can be filled by no one else, only you. “I pray thee have me excused” (Luke 14:18) is the prayer which is never answered, but then if we are followers of Christ it will never be prayed.
As you go from this house tonight, a new presence fills you, a new hope surges in your heart, a new road lies before you, and under the command of Christ a new life begins. As the years unfold may they produce for Our Lord a rich harvest. May the tapestry of time show that when He called you answered as did the child Samuel: “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” (1 Samuel 3:10)
Tonight you have accepted the Risen Lord as Lord of your life, may your body become His temple, your heart His throne, and your life a priceless jewel for Him.
Responding to a simple and random open invitation by a Catholic friend to attend the Easter Vigil, the author was so moved by the experience that her sixty-odd years in one Faith tradition proved to be a stepping stone from which she eventually – after a process of withdrawal from her own involvement in the Church of her baptism and journeying in faith towards another – moved into the Catholic Faith in late-1990. Whilst declaring that her shift of allegiance from one faith to another was the best thing that she had ever done – not without pain, loss and sacrifice – she presented these words as a form of second homily at the end of a subsequent Easter Vigil. Within a few short months, the Lord had further plans for her, as He called her home to rest in peace and rise in glory !