Last Saturday we opened the church for the first time since Christmas, funerals excepted. We could have opened on Friday, and even on Thursday after the court ruling, but we had already designated Friday as an intense cleaning day in preparation for the start of Holy Week. We were due to open at 3.00 p.m. for Prayer; Adoration and Confessions, but with people already gathering outside, we began hearing Confessions at around 2.40 p.m. Despite being unable to use the Confessionals, we managed to find three places, so that Father Gareth, Father Antony and myself, could all be available for the celebration of the Sacrament. It became one of the most joyful experiences of the Sacrament that I have encountered in all of my 38 years of priesthood. The joy of people to be back in the church, to be able to pray before the Blessed Eucharist, to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to experience the joy of being forgiven, was very palpable. At 5.00 p.m. we closed up again to do the necessary sanitization before admitting those who had booked in for the Vigil Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, as it is now called. We distributed palms as people came in, and we discovered that one of our volunteers had a real talent for making crosses from the palms, a skill that many people had either forgotten, or never possessed in the first place, so she ended up with a steady stream of people asking her to do the needful for them, to which she duly obliged.
The instruction in these Covid times was to use the short reading of the Passion to lessen the length of the Mass but, as Passionists, we felt it was more appropriate that we should read the full text, especially as this year we were using the Passion from St. Mark’s Gospel, which is the shortest of all the accounts. As the principal celebrant, Father Gareth took the part of Christ; Father Antony was the Narrator, and that left me with the Other Voices. It struck me that, having been a parish priest in various locations for the past 25 years, I had never actually spoken the part of the Other Voices, I had always taken the part of Christ, and I found it, very much, a different experience. I found myself really getting into it, confronting in myself the various emotions of the different characters in the Passion story, one moment being on the side of Jesus, taking his part, the next moment turning against him; then, one moment being his defender, and the next his accuser. It would have been a real, Oscar-winning performance, except that it didn’t feel like a performance, the emotions felt all too real.
After Mass it was good to greet the people outside of the Church, but I slipped away quite quickly, leaving the young men to lock up, so as to attend to my caring duties for my young brother. It turned into a prime example of the old adage – more haste, less speed. I, far too quickly, grabbed the shopping I had gotten for him earlier, took a few things out of the freezer in the office for his dinner, threw my own bag over my shoulder, and headed out to the car. Half way home I realised that, in all the mad rush, I had left my mobile phone in the office. It wasn’t lost, I knew exactly where it was, but I also knew I would need it later that night. When I got to my brother’s I told him I would make his dinner, but that I would then need to go back into the church to get my phone, so I wouldn’t be staying too long. When the dinner was almost ready, I asked him what he would like to drink with it and, true to form, he opted for Irn Bru. I poured the Irn Bru and brought it into him but, as I set it down on his tray, I inadvertently put it on top of a pen, and the whole glass spilled over the tray, creating about half an inch of Irn Bru, and soaking his reading glasses, as well as the remote controls for his TV and video recorder. I spent the next 10 minutes mopping up and drying off. Thankfully, everything still worked and, eventually, his dinner was put down in front of him too. Later than expected, I went back into the church, got my phone, and headed home. Needless to say, the emotions I felt were quite different to those experienced when reading the Passion. So, now for the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, and then, next Thursday, a very different kind of celebration, when we will mark the 90th birthday of Father Justinian, who is keeping well.
So, as ever, protect yourselves, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.