Mysterium Paschale

avel-droI would like to wish all my readers a glorious Easter full of the joy of this emerging spring (at least those of us in the northern hemisphere) and faith in the victory of life over death that this mystery represents in continuation and fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the great mystery religions of the ancient world.

I have greatly appreciated Fr Hunwicke’s nod in the direction of the Sarum tradition in Easter Morning where he makes allusion to the The Easter Sepulchre. (Also see The Easter sepulchre) Those of us who use the Sarum liturgy will have remembered that we have no altar of repose on Maundy Thursday. Three hosts are consecrated on Maundy Thursday, one to be consumed at the Mass itself, the second at the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday and the third is put into the Easter Sepulchre after the Mass of the Presanctified with the wooden crucifix that has been venerated and left until just before the Mass of Easter Sunday. The Sepulchre remains through the Paschal Vigil of Holy Saturday. I use a wooden credence table and the urn I used to use for the altar of repose when I used the Roman rite, and cover the whole with a white humeral veil. The medieval Easter Sepulchre is usually a recess in the north wall of the sanctuary, and is still found in many parish churches. Its purpose is largely forgotten, and was often transformed into an elaborate memorial for a deceased big-wig of the eighteenth century or somewhere to put a nice vase of flowers. I use what I have for the purpose.

Holy Week is always in my experience a strain. I had translating work to finish on time and there was the chapel to be got ready for each ceremony. My boat club has its annual general meeting each year on Holy Saturday for practical reasons, and I succeeding in inviting a correspondent of mine to come and give a talk on dinghy cruising. This meant going to fetch him from the sea port of Caen on Good Friday morning and putting him up for a couple of nights at my home. By Maundy Thursday, I began to feel a sort of feverish weakness coming over my body, something like the beginning of a bout with flu. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might become, but it sapped my energy and made everything that much more of an effort. Without the altar of repose and the Roman rite Blessed Sacrament devotions, Maundy Thursday took on the character of what is intended in the Sarum tradition, a Passiontide liturgy with the commemoration of the Last Supper and the treachery of Judas. Only the Bishop sings the Gloria at his Chrism Mass at the Cathedral and the vestments were bull’s blood red. My passiontide vestments are black with red orphreys. I will probably make dark red ones for next year.

I set off for Caen on the Thursday evening after a lot of cleaning and tidying in the house with my wife, and spent the night at Caen camping in the back of the van. I awoke groggy on Friday morning at about 5 am and willed myself to sleep until about 6 am. I was to meet the arriving ferry at 7.30. It was better like that than sleep in my bed and get moving at about 4 am. I had the tail end of a translating job to do, and set up a camping chair and table in the back of the van and connected my computer to the van battery. Good Friday morning was gloomy and the air was filled with the end of last week’s north Atlantic gales and drizzle. It was almost symbolic!

The meeting with my guest was a new chapter in this Holy Week that seemed to take so much out of me. The foot passenger terminal opened and out came a cheerful bearded man carrying a bag and a folding bicycle. The handshake was firm and he appreciated my offer of a good coffee and croissant in a local brasserie in Ouistreham. I then drove him to my home in the drizzle and spray from the wheels of so many freight vehicles. The dreary journey of driving my van was offset by stimulating conversation with this highly cultivated gentleman. The person in question is Roger Barnes, often mentioned in this blog in my sailing posts. He and I are of almost the same age and the same part of England, myself from Kendal in Westmorland (now located in the administrative entity invented in the 1970’s called Cumbria) and he from a little further north.

Good Friday was rough. Both Roger and I were tired out, and I still felt weak from whatever it was (a little paracetamol helped). After a few finishing touches to preparing the chapel for the Mass of the Presanctified, he and I had a nap. Mass of the Presanctified was in English. I found Roger very interested in church architecture and theological questions, and he happily attended the ceremonies. A simple lunch of fish fingers and instant mashed potato preceded another siesta and various tasks. I finally found the courage to get the chapel ready for Holy Saturday, take the Lenten veils down, sort out the Paschal Candle and everything.

The Paschal Vigil had to be on Saturday morning because of the AGM of our boat club in the evening. Roger and I had a conversation about the issue of times of the Holy Week services. I have always objected to the 1950’s reforms in the Roman rite Holy Week services under Pius XII, but I found it strange that those doing the old ceremonies were so insistent on doing it on Saturday morning. These are among the oldest rites of the liturgy, whether descended to us via the Germanic and Franciscan traditions from the Ordines Romani or through the French traditions and Sarum. What was most regrettable about what the RC’s did in the 1950’s on the fiat of the Pope was that the rites were mutilated on a whim. On the other hand, how does one sing O beata nox in the bright sunshine of the morning? Fortunately, from this point of view, the weather was dull and gloomy as on Good Friday and the anomaly was felt less acutely!

The hour came to leave home for Veules les Roses and the meeting. We were met by a howling force 6 wind and breaking waves as far as the eye could see. There were no boats on the water. We found that the club got the use of a projector that was perfectly compatible with Roger’s computer to show illustrations of the talk on a screen, and this made everything a great success. Roger Barnes is the president of the Dinghy Cruising Association based in England, and this is clearly a growing movement, taking the monopoly away from racing and highly technical modern boats. The basic idea is using a workmanlike traditional open boat, the kind that would have been used for small-scale fishing a hundred years ago, and cruising in it in a group of a few friends or alone. It became clear that in France, we have some extremely well-organised events like the Semaine du Golfe, the Route du Sable and the Ronde des Pertuis, and nothing of the kind in England. On the other hand, we English like less formality and less in the way of regulations. The sea is a place of freedom, and we adults are responsible for our own risks and safety. Precautions can remain reasonable and not be conditioned by legal entanglements. The Dinghy Cruising Association has the most amazing characters as members who organise weekends of sailing involving people camping in their boats in many parts of the country, both at sea and on lakes like Derwentwater, Coniston and Windermere. We find the spirit of the old fishermen and people with values other than money, materialism and status. This is something else that emerges between the posh yachting clubs and social standing – and the democratisation of sailing that began to come in just after World War II. Sailing is no longer the sport of kings, but is accessible to anyone. No doubt, the sea will become increasingly regulated and taxed – but we are fighting against the encroachment as best we can by means of petitions and discussions with politicians.

Easter Day began with sunlight streaming through the window. I felt as though a weight had been lifted. I no longer seemed to have the virus or whatever, and felt a lot stronger. My guest pursued his plan to spend a couple of days in Rouen doing some architectural drawings, and I took him to Yvetot so that he could take a train to Rouen with his bag and bicycle. He reminded me of my own arrival in France in July 1982 with a couple of bags and a bicycle. He was visibly happy with his little stay with us, the Nautique Club Veulais and his exposure to medieval church services. I returned home and turned to the chapel. I was on my own. There was first the third host to put into the hanging pyx and the Good Friday crucifix back to the sacristy, the Easter Sepulchre to take down and the Bishop’s seat to put back in place under our diocesan arms. I sang Christus resurgens and then put on my vestments for Mass, which I said in Latin. There was a feeling of lightness, of rising and shaking away the cloying gloom of Holy Week and the efforts to deal with all the things that drag us down, hinder us and turn us away from the way we are trying to go. I have always felt Holy Week like that. I would almost call it the priest’s Hell Week like in the American Navy and their Seals! That being said, there are illuminating moments in the midst of the gloom and cloying human wickedness (the narratives of Judas and the awful hypocrisy and duplicity of the Temple clergy and the canaille), and some wonderful moments spent in conversation with Roger and with our folk of the sea at Veules. The Mass came to a close in the gentle April sunshine and the cheerful birdsong, a feeling of relief, of gratitude and peace. Thus I lived through the Paschal Mystery this year.

In a way, I envied those who would spend their Holy Week entirely focused on the mysteries being played out and the Mystery of our Redemption, whatever that means to each of us. Some people go to a monastery and spend the time in silence and relating the Mysteries to their personal renewal and transfiguration. Some of us found peace and light after a time of confusion, stress and weakness through being unwell. Who came out of it better? I have no way of knowing. Sometimes we just give without counting the cost, knowing that others will reap what we have sown.

Resurrexit sicut dixit! Alleluya!

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2 Responses to Mysterium Paschale

  1. Jim of Olym says:

    There is a Russian saying regarding Holy Week and Pascha:
    “Christ is Risen; the priest is dead” relating to the burdens of the services…

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wishing you a joyful Eastertide, too! (And thanks for the vivid account!) I have a certain awareness of the curious fugal effect of this being Easter Week while knowing it is Holy Week in the Orthodox reckoning…

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