A Blessed Easter to you all!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Easter Bishop’s Blog!

The sheer drama of that first Easter morning is difficult, if not impossible, to capture in words.  The Evangelist Matthew speaks of the huge stone sealing the tomb being rolled away; an earthquake has taken place, the women are petrified, there is an appearance of an angel, and finally there is the empty tomb.

The scene by the tomb was completely overpowering.  That, however, is only half of the story, there was much more to come and it was utterly unexpected.  The tomb was empty and the angel spoke the startling news that Christ had risen, as he had predicted.  He was alive, no longer was he dead.

Understandably, the women were filled with fear and joy: they were at one and the same time both frightened yet filled with joy. They must have been thinking, ‘can it possibly be true?’  Had their Lord broken the stranglehold of sin and death, and changed everything forever?   When they did encounter the risen Christ he commanded them to go and break this unheard-of news to his disciples. They were to be first Evangelists of the resurrection!

That Gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ still speaks to us, and is intended to do so; its message is ever old and ever new. The Lord, the hope of his people has risen.  Death and sin have lost their power. Christ was put to death in weakness, but God the Father has raised him up. The Son of God’s trust in his Father was not misplaced.

The risen Christ’s words to his disciples were, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; they will see me there’ (Mt.28:10).  In his resurrection the Lord Jesus has now entered the eternal life of God, but he has not forgotten his friends, his brothers. They must be told he is still thinking of them. They must know that he is alive and will see them again. He has now passed beyond death, but they will always remain his disciples and his friends.

As we prepare to renew our baptismal promises, we are also renewing our friendship with the crucified and risen Son of God. In these promises we are making our own the fruits of the redemption which he has gained for us by his cross.

The candles we hold are a powerful symbol that he is the light of the world, and we pledge ourselves to walk in that light, and be ourselves a light to others.  We can make our own tonight the Easter greeting of the Orthodox Christians to one another, ‘The Lord has risen. He has indeed risen.’  Amen.

With every good wish and prayer this Easter!

As ever in the Risen Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

 

P.S. The Bishop’s Blog will be on a break for a few weeks now!

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Celebrating Holy Week – The Church’s Great Week!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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The Church’s liturgical year keeps fresh the memory of Jesus Christ, and this applies in a particular way to the last days of Christ’s earthly life, and most of all to his glorious resurrection ‘on the third day’, Easter Day.

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With good reason we call the sequence of these sacred and dramatic days Holy Week. At the heart of Holy Week come the three days we know as the Triduum, and it is the wish of the Church that her sons and daughters share fully in these richest of liturgical moments.

The Triduum officially begins on Thursday evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

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When we think of all the Masses which have been offered and celebrated over two thousand years, the countless numbers of believers who have received Holy Communion in that time, and the centuries-long widespread practice of Eucharistic devotion and adoration, it was on this night in the Upper Room or Cenacle in Jerusalem where it all began.

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To be present on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to be transported in spirit to that evening in the Cenacle where the Lord, anticipating his passion on the following day, gave his undoubtedly startled disciples the sacred food of his body and blood. We too take our place at that Last Supper table with him.

At the conclusion of this Mass the Blessed Sacrament is carried solemnly in procession to the altar of repose; there we can ‘watch’ for a time with the Lord and join him in prayer as he himself prayed in agony in Gethsemane.

On Good Friday we gather at 3.00pm for the solemn liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, the heart of which is the Evangelist John’s account of the Passion, followed by the Veneration of the Cross. Along with the reception of Holy Communion, this veneration of the Lord’s cross for which faithful people queue patiently and quietly, is an act of intense spiritual devotion and reverence for the crucified Lord.

The liturgy of Good Friday ends with a simple prayer and we depart quietly and reflectively, having commemorated the most sacred and momentous of all human events – the death of Jesus Christ.

The Church has no liturgy as such on Holy Saturday. Our church buildings lie empty, devoid of the Blessed Sacrament, and therefore somehow hollow. Holy Saturday evokes the mysterious descent of Christ “into Hell”, as our faith professes.

As he lay dead in the tomb, the human Christ showed his solidarity with the rest of humanity who too must pass through the gates of death.  The utter desolation and sadness of death are well captured by what may be described as the empty nature of Holy Saturday which we ought not diminish. We should pause for thought on this day.

With good reason the Easter Vigil has been described as the ‘Mother of all Vigils”, for it is the solemn celebration in liturgy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. God the Father has vindicated his Son in the face of opposition, rejection and crucifixion. Life has triumphed over death!  With great fanfare the paschal candle is lit, a powerful symbol of the victory of light over darkness.

The Scriptures are proclaimed, detailing the wonderful creative deeds of God and his promises to his people of old, promises now made good in the newly-risen Christ.  With lit candles the congregation renew their baptismal promises, indicating that we too, mysteriously in baptism, have died and risen with Christ. The Eucharistic celebration concludes the joy of this Easter liturgy, and we depart with alleluias ringing in our ears!

The Sacred Triduum represents the culmination of the Church’s liturgical year, her celebration of all that God has achieved for us in Christ. May this Holy Week find us ready and willing to walk prayerfully with Our Lord through the final days of his life, and to renew our faith and hope in his unquenchable victory over sin, suffering and the power of death.

Until next week – May God bless you all,

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As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Entering into Passiontide and an Invitation to the Chrism Mass

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The Church this weekend enters the liturgical (mini) season of Passiontide, leading eventually to the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday night, which culminates in the proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection.

Consequently, the liturgy of the two weeks of Passiontide increasingly focuses our attention on the Lord’s suffering and death on the cross, a death, as we say at Mass he freely accepted. Passiontide is intended to be a solemn time, one of reflection on the person of Jesus Christ, both God and man, and on the wonder of our redemption through his death and resurrection.

We are treading on mystery here; and the practice of covering the statues and crucifixes in many of our churches lends an atmosphere of awe and reverence to these special and holy days. With the conviction and assurance of faith that the final events of the Lord’s life are deeply significant for all of us, the Church invites her sons and daughters to cultivate a spirit of prayer and recollection and so enter more fully, as the apostle Paul would say, into the mystery of Christ, and to what God has accomplished in him.

An important and often moving moment in the life of a diocese, especially for its bishop and priests, is the Mass of the Chrism, which takes place in our cathedral in Holy Week, usually on Holy Thursday morning.  Since this is the only Mass which takes place on that morning it is always well attended and greatly appreciated by lay people from all across the Diocese of Lancaster.

As Bishop, I personally find the Chrism Mass particularly meaningful, and am aware that the oils which are blessed will touch literally and spiritually many of the faithful, young and old, throughout the diocese in the course of the year.

I warmly invite those of you from the Diocese of Lancaster who have never attended the Chrism Mass to join us in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster on Holy Thursday morning. You will be pleasantly surprised at the rich experience!

The bishop is acting in a special way in persona Christi when he blesses the oils surrounded by his priests and people. The saving work of Christ is being perpetuated in the local church through the sacred priestly ministry of the bishop and his priests.  The first of the three oils to be blessed is the Oil of Catechumens, which is used in the sacrament of baptism on those about to be reborn in Christ.

During his own public ministry Christ touched and healed the sick and afflicted who came to him, and that ministry continues in our day when the sick of the diocese are anointed with the Oil of the Sick blessed at this Mass. The compassionate and comforting Christ still moves through his suffering people, laying his healing hands upon them through his priestly ministers.

The final blessing, just before this unique Mass concludes, is that of the Oil of Chrism, and its name suggests a very close link with Christ himself – the Anointed One. During the course of the year every child or person to be baptised will be anointed with Chrism.

Those who receive the sacrament of Confirmation will be anointed on the forehead with Chrism, and finally the hands of the young man I hope to ordain on 1 July (again, in the Cathedral) will be consecrated and anointed with Chrism for sacred priestly service among the people of Christ.

The power of the Holy Spirit charges these different oils with the presence of the risen Christ, hence the importance and significance of the Mass of Chrism for the unity of the local diocesan Church.

Earlier in the Mass, after the homily, I will invite my brother priests to renew their priestly promises in the presence of their people, while in turn I will invite the congregation to pray for their priests and bishop.  The Mass of the Chrism may be seen as the start of a particularly holy time for the diocesan Church. The oils have been blessed and consecrated, as priests we have reaffirmed our commitment to Christ, and now we move forward into the Sacred Triduum to celebrate the paschal mystery of the One who is at the heart of it all, Jesus Christ, God made man.

Until next week – may God bless you all,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster