We begin our celebrations of Holy Week recalling the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with the crowds of people waving palms and branches to welcome him. For the two main Sunday Morning Masses at 10.00am in the Crypt and 11.00am in the Cathedral we begin outside for the Blessing of Palms and then process in for the celebration of Mass incorporating the Solemn Reading of the Passion according to St Matthew. There will be a simpler indoor procession at the other weekend masses both at St Vincent’s and the Cathedral. We will have a plan B if the weather conditions take a turn for the worse.
There will be no afternoon service of Evening Prayer today – instead there will be a special Choral Tenebrae for Palm Sunday at 7.30pm in the Cathedral. Tenebrae is a candlelit service of psalms and readings specially celebrated in Holy Week a combination of two of the daily office prayers (Office of Readings and Morning Prayer). It was originally celebrated in the very early hours of the morning and the candles lit in church were slowly extinguished. With the advent of morning Triduum Services the celebration of Tenebrae was moved to the night before the feasts of Holy Week. In memory of this tradition we have incorporated a service on the evening of Palm Sunday as it offers us a prayerful and symbolic entry into the liturgies of the week. The service concludes with the Miserere to a setting by Allegri and then darkness with the re- appearance of the last candle to announce Christ Risen from the dead.
The Mass of Chrism on Wednesday evening is the most important Diocesan gathering of the year in the Cathedral incorporating the Blessing of the Sacramental Oils and Renewal of Priestly Commitment. The Cathedral is packed full of parishioners from across the Diocese joining with the Archbishop, Bishops and Clergy for this Annual Celebration. I both look forward to this evening as one of my favourite services of the year and yet approach it with a certain amount of dread.
A service of this magnitude takes quite an amount of planning and there are large numbers of clergy, ministers and altar servers involved in the processions with us having to utilise every available room within the Cathedral for the vesting of the different groups and things can at times go awry at a complicated service like this which only happens once a year. The best we can do in these situations is to prepare well and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.
The heart of Holy Week is the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and The Easter Vigil/Easter Day. On each of these days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) we have a Sung Service of Readings and Morning Prayer at 10am in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday is at 7.30pm with watching in the Chapel until 10.00pm finishing with a simple Night Prayer. The Solemn Celebration on Good Friday takes place at 3.00pm at the Cathedral. The Passion according to St John will be sung followed by Solemn Intercessions, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion. There will be a retiring collection after this service in support of the Holy Places. It is from these Holy Places that the Easter Proclamation has spread throughout the world and we need to support the struggling communities of Christians who continue to live and worship in the Holy land.
At 11.00am on Holy Saturday Archbishop Malcolm and Bishop Paul Bayes will be leading a walk of witness starting at the steps of our Cathedral through the City Centre to the church of Our Lady and St Nicholas concluding with prayers at the church at 3pm. All are welcome to join us. The Easter Vigil Services on Holy Saturday begin at 9pm this year in both St Vincent’s and the Cathedral.