13 April 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Michael Fisher

In his homily at the celebration of the Easter vigil at St Macartan’s Cathedral in Monaghan on Saturday, broadcast on the webcam, the Bishop of Clogher Larry Duffy said: “The two great holy nights – Christmas and Easter – are celebrated in a way that avails of the powerful symbols of light and darkness.”

“At Christmas we welcome Christ, the Light of the World. The first reading at the Midnight Mass announces:
‘The people that walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
On those who in a alnd of deep shadow
a light has shone.’ (Isaiah 9:1)

We celebrate that God knocks on the door of our world and in spite of many indifferences, he comes to live among us. The shepherds, the poor and the powerless, they rejoice at his coming. Herod, among others, fears the light and chooses the way of darkness.” 

“The Easter Vigil begins with the church building being covered in darkness. The Easter flame enters and reveals that even one candle can bring light into the deepest darkness. That darkness is dispelled as the light is passed on within family and community, seat by seat. The Exultet – the Easter Proclamation, a song of joy – announces: 

‘This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison bars of death,
and rose victorious from the underworld.’
What a victory! What an event for humanity!

Our candles are again lit as we greet the Gospel and renew our baptismal calling. We join in the response ‘I do’ when we are asked ‘Do you believe…in the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?’ I do!’

In renewing our baptismal promises, we renounce Satan and the power of darkness. We proclaim that Jesus is our light and our way. He is our model, our hope, our resurrection. Receiving him in Holy Communion, we pray that his light will guide us safely home.”

“May the joy of Christ’s resurrection give hope to you and your family at this time and in the days ahead. Christ is Risen, Alleluia!”

On Holy Thursday, Bishop Larry Duffy spoke at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St Macartan’s Cathedral, broadcast by webcam. He stated: “This the first Holy Thursday in my life when we have no ceremony of Washing the Feet. But so many have taken on a similar task in our world – not in the safety of a church but in hospital wards and at home. The act of washing feet says all we need to know about service and care of another.”

“Jesus teaches us a profound lesson in the Gospel. God, who is power and greatness itself, doesn’t want to trample on us, but kneels down before us so as to raise us up. He takes the towel and basin to wash feet.”

“Picture the scene: Jesus on his knees, caring for his children, reaching out in love to his family. The all-powerful God, back bent, washing feet – my feet! In this we encounter the mystery of God’s greatness. Despite his noble position as Son of God, he takes on the work of a slave. What humility! What love!”

“Jesus doesn’t look for a position at the top of the table or the best seat in the house. No! His greatness is not found in power or domination, nor privilege, but in love and service of others.”

“On this Holy Thursday we thank him for giving us so much – His love, His life, Himself in the Eucharist. The one who knelt down to wash feet is the same one who mounted the Cross, but God raised him to new life. This day, he invites us to achieve greatness by our service of others. In the Eucharist he gives us Himself to help us on the way.”

Liturgies in St Macartan’s Cathedral are livestreamed on
On Easter Sunday, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher Right Reverend John McDowell read the Gospel and preached at a Holy Communion service at Kiltermon chapel of ease at Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone. The service, which was broadcast on Shannonside Northern Sound radio, included recordings of several well–known Easter hymns. The prayers and intercessions were led by Precentor Kyle Hanlon, Rector of Fivemiletown parish which includes Kiltermon.

In his sermon, Bishop McDowell said: “One of the differences between the Gospels and more modern writings, like biographies, is that the Gospel writers had no interest in the psychology of the people they were writing about; what was going on in their heads.

If someone was writing a modern biography of Jesus, or John or Mary they would be interested in their thought processes or what their childhood had been like. As you know, our childhood experiences are the source of much of what we dread or love as adults. ‘The child is father to the man’, as the poet said.

But that is not what ancient writers were interested in, so they don’t provide ready answers to satisfy our curiosity. However, we can’t help wondering, can we? What were the Twelve and that group of women who had been so close to him during his lifetime, thinking and feeling? One man and three women had stood nearby the foot of the Cross until the very end. Until it was finished. What were they thinking and feeling?

Most people reading this will know that grief is a very exhausting emotion. Bereavement is tough. It drains a person and often disorients them. Bereavement counsellors tell people not to make any important decisions for at least six months following the death of a loved one. Especially where that death has been traumatic; as Jesus violent death was.

Mary Magdalene must have been exhausted with grief. With Jesus, every hope had died. Who knows what she thought she was doing when she went to the garden where the tomb they had borrowed to bury him was situated? Who knows why we do lots of things when we are worn out by life?

Mary’s reaction represents the reaction of so many in our world too. Those tens of thousands of people who live in the presence of overwhelming cruelty and who see the finality of death very close at hand every day. Those in Ireland who have suffered inexplicable and traumatic loss in the most difficult of circumstances due to the horrors of the coronavirus.

It appears that all hope is gone. But… ‘Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…’ everything changes (John 20:1). The one whose body had been a corpse, lifeless on a stone slab in a borrowed tomb, now stands before Mary, speaking her name. Just as he spoke, your name through his Church, at your baptism, and made you, by his gift, a daughter or a son of the Resurrection.

When Mary heard her name spoken, we read, she ‘turned towards Jesus’, and everything changed. Death, which is the mother and father of all fears, had met its match. And more than its match. Fear and grief withered. Hope was restored. Love was, after all, the victor.

Although men tried to finish off Jesus 2000 years ago (and often we too try to finish him off by pretending he is still dead or might as well not exist) we find that we cannot expel God from this world or from our lives. Jesus is risen and he is alive! And he is active through the Spirit. Where there was once weeping, there is now joy.

Joy in the face of difficulties is our witness to the Resurrection. Today it seems that almost the whole world is suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Billions of people are still trapped in the cave of isolation. Tens of thousands of people around the world can’t even sit by the hospital beds of dying loved ones and are waiting by a phone for an unwanted call. All those who are struggling for life. The many healthcare workers who are tending to them. Churches fallen silent and empty.

But if online views are anything to go by, there will be more people worshipping the Risen Lord than for many years. Our hope and our joy. And I say “joy” not unremitting “happiness”. Joy is a gift from God; a gift of his Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Joy can live were happiness can’t. It can live alongside fear, depression, bereavement, illness and depression because the joy of Christ comes from knowing thaw no one but God has the last word.

And God’s last word is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead in which he said “Yes” to the world he had created and recreated in the image of his Son. Truly he rose on the third day with a new Kingdom in his hand.

The proclamation that Jesus is alive changes everything. Not instantly and simplistically. But it changes us. That joy in the huge life of Jesus is present in food banks, in community projects, in every voluntary down to earth initiative that the Church is involved in throughout the world.

But Jesus isn’t finished with Mary Magdelene yet. Her encounter with her Risen Lord isn’t simply a personal experience, although it certainly was that. Mary becomes the first apostle, the first witness to the Resurrection who is sent out by the command of Jesus to teal her “brothers”. In all four Gospels the first witness to the Resurrection is a woman. So Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

Through the Mary’s of this world Jesus comes to find us all. And Jesus never leaves us empty handed. He gives us a vocation, a job to do. The meaning of our existence is to be witnesses to the Resurrection- to the new life of love that is offered in Jesus. The persecuted Church bears witness to the Resurrection in its courage -its joy overcoming fear- and in worship in the midst of war or in dehumanising refugee camps.

Perhaps our distinctive witness to the Resurrection is to let the dry bones of our old ways find new life as we are forced to become a deeply praying community once again as we see just how feeble and fragile the apparatus of civilisation can be. When we show that money isn’t our ruler, that self-promotion isn’t our king, that a life of pleasure is a bitter sorrow and that the survival of the fittest means only that some people die later than others.

The new life of Christ has broken into our world in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It cannot be contained; it cannot be restricted; it cannot be managed. And the Church exists to show by its life and work the irresistible power that has been set free in the world. And the name of that power is Love. And that Love calls our attention, controls our lives, heals our brokenness and sends us out with purpose, hope and joy.”

Jesus, Good Shepherd,
Who gave your life for the sheep
And who lives to tend your flock
Comfort the bereaved
Recover the straggler
Bind up the injured
Strengthen the sick
And lead the healthy and strong to new pastures
By your great Name.

The service can be viewed at:

In his Easter message, the Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has said the seclusion imposed on many people because of the coronavirus restrictions has helped them to think about what they value. He urged them to maintain the current restrictions in order to protect and save lives.
Delivering the homily at an Easter Sunday Mass broadcast by webcam from the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman in Newry, he said he hoped the public would come through the coronavirus pandemic spiritually strengthened by the experience. 
The Archbishop of Armagh and Administrator of Dromore Diocese said Catholics across the island were turning to online sources for religious services instead of physically attending Mass in church buildings owing to public health restrictions. “As surely as Christ rose on Easter morning, we will come through this, hopefully as better people, strengthened by the experience,” he said. 
Archbishop Martin recalled an early childhood memory of his mother leaving a basin of water out in the back yard on a bright Easter Sunday morning and inviting her family “to look in and watch the sun dance!” He said his mother told the family “the sun dances on Easter morning” and that it was that kind of “message of joy and hope that we all need during these difficult days.”
Reflecting on the darkness and sorrow at the beginning of the Easter story, he said the disciples were “hidden away behind locked doors, isolated and feeling alone, fearing for their lives. 
But when Christ rose from the dead he brought back the light of hope into the darkness of despair,” he added. “The stone was rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. He entered through the closed doors of the place where the disciples were and he said to them: ‘peace be with you’.” 

The Archbishop said Easter is a reminder that people must not allow themselves to robbed of hope, as Pope Francis has reminded the faithful. “As the children’s hymn joyfully puts it:
‘They buried my body
And they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.
Dance, then, wherever you may be, 
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he’.”

“We know how important it is to continue to make sacrifices and to maintain the current restrictions in order to protect and save lives. Please God it won’t be too long before we can go back to singing and dancing together, to meeting and greeting, travelling and discovering, and gathering in church to celebrate and praise God,” Archbishop Martin stated.
He continued: “But what will we have learned?  What is this crisis teaching us about ourselves and others, about faith and hope, about the importance of caring and loving, of living simpler lives and managing our expectations?  In a strange way these days of seclusion have been helping us stop and think about what we value and perhaps even question some of the ways we have been living our lives.” 

“An old medieval carol about the life of Jesus promises that ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’. We still have a long way to go in the fight against Covid-19 and its consequences. There will be many more sacrifices to make before this is all over. But as surely as Christ rose on Easter morning, we will come through this, hopefully as better people, strengthened by the experience,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said.

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