Bishop’s letter – May 2017
This month Bishop Burrows writes about why he wouldn’t like the date of Easter to be fixed, mentions the upcoming General Synod and pays tribute to the late Very Reverend David Earl, former Dean of Ferns.
It is hard, writing as I do amid the demanding atmosphere of Holy Week, to think forwards into the midst of the joyful Easter weeks. I have been thinking to myself about how, over the years, the mood of Holy Week and Easter have so much changed in Ireland… And I suppose this is absolutely inevitable. Good Friday now seems simply the start of another holiday weekend; this is probably the last year when the pubs will be closed on that day, thus ending a tradition of ninety years.
I may be incorrigibly romantic in what I say next, but as the world changes around us there is one feature of Easter … over and above its deeper and transforming truth …. that does not change at all.
I refer to the very manner of its calculation, which was indeed the subject of a recent article in this very magazine when the editor wrote of controversy in the early medieval church concerning this matter, and the role of Old Leighlin in the negotiations aimed at resolving it.
Should the date of Easter be fixed?
Today, as in those times, the date of Easter, and in consequence the dates of several other church festivals as well, is determined by the phases of the moon. The key lunar calculation is to know the date of the full moon that follows March 21. In the modern world this seems a very eccentric way of doing our business, and from time to time the churches themselves have proposed the fixing of Easter, for example on the second Sunday of April. The present Archbishop of Canterbury has been an advocate of this cause.
On the face of it a fixed Easter has merits… It would be in the eyes of some a great ecumenical achievement bringing into harmony the great churches of the West and of the East, for the latter continue to use a somewhat different means of calculation to ourselves. But I truly hope a fixed Easter will never come about. Such a feast would inevitably, like Christmas, become much more commercialised when it lacked the mystique of calendrical movement.
Would disconnect us from the same moon which the Lord agonised under
More particularly, a fixed Easter would disconnect us from the moon which in turn connects us to the parallel calculations associated with the Passover. During a Holy Week with clear nights (like this year) I often marvel at the full and bright paschal moon high in the sky as I travel home from the services night by night. And then time somehow stands still, and I think with wonder to myself … this is the same moon under which the Lord agonised under in Gethsemane, under which Judas went out from the last Supper into the night, under which Peter swore and denied in the courtyard of the high priest.
Easter moon brings the past into the present – takes us to the Upper Room
The Easter moon makes those past events part of my present, providing the umbrella under which both that world and my world can converse. And that is why I dread the notion of a fixed Easter, because the timelessness created for me by the sight of the full moon is a timelessness which should also continually pervade our liturgy especially at the Eucharist. At that service when we ‘remember’ (such a rich word) events at the climax of the life of Jesus, we are not simply thinking in a detached way about a irretrievable past. Rather, we are making that past part of our present, actualising it in our own experience, experiencing the challenge of timeless events and questions which should cut us to the quick. We stand under the moon, we bring ourselves into the atmosphere of the upper room, and the familiar hymn is indeed right to ask us ‘were you there when they crucified my Lord?’. To the worshipping Christian few things bring faith to life more wonderfully than the frequent and profound experience of authentic liturgical remembering. Deprive Easter of the moon, and something poetic and powerful in the very pulse of our self-understanding is abandoned. Or so it seems to me …
General Synod in Limerick – May 4th– 6th
Enough of that! Our prayers are with the members of the General synod gathering from May 4 to 6 in Limerick … The first time such a meeting has been held in that city. The synod may not have to face such weighty and long – term decisions as the manner of calculation of Easter, but every year there are important matters to face in the housekeeping of the affairs of the church so that we may be refreshed and facilitated in our essential mission. It is hard to believe it is now a decade since the similar once-off visit of the synod to Kilkenny.
Funeral of the Very Reverend David Earl, former dean of Ferns
On April 2 in Tramore we had the funeral Eucharist of a much – loved former dean of Ferns, the Very Reverend David Earl. Although he had retired in 1994, and had faced many challenges in terms of health in recent years, the great throng of friends and former parishioners at the funeral was eloquent evidence of lives touched, enriched and guided by a ministry of great kindness and care for individuals. To visit David was always a tonic…. He was fun, wise, and had an incredible memory of people and events. Our prayers and love surround the family and especially his dear wife of over sixty years Christine, who always cared so wonderfully, supported so cheerfully,and conversed so intelligently. In words of a hymn they loved, associated with Michaelmas Angels… ‘Angels, sing on…. Sing us sweet fragments of the songs above…..Angels of Jesus, Angels of light, singing to welcome the pilgrims of the night.’
Relish the continuing Easter season, which continues right up to Pentcost on June 4 … Keep singing its hymns and shouting forth its Alleluias! The Lord is risen indeed!
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory