Note: This letter should have been posted on 1st January. DCO
At the time of writing (8th December 2020) Christmas is still more than two weeks away…those who actually read these words in early January will have the benefit of knowing how it all went, and perhaps greater insight as to whether there are likely to be any further interruptions to public worship in the New Year.
In the time available between now and the Epiphany, I am trying to take six Confirmations that should have taken place earlier in 2020, recognising that for some of the candidates there have already been two (indeed in a few cases three) postponements. I feel a real sympathy for those being confirmed in current circumstances … a maximum of 50 people present scattered around a large building, no singing, little of the drama and movement I normally like to associate with the Confirmation liturgy…and I recognise that sociability and feasting after the event is hugely constrained too. Yet in a strange way these rather quiet and austere Confirmations are not without authentic joy ; moreover I think they remind candidates quite forcibly of what it means to make a commitment to faith in a troubled world where they are not simply ‘carried’ on The Day by the usual upbeat mood of the occasion in a thronged church. There is something uncompromisingly challenging for individuals about the Vows they choose to make in current quite uncomfortable circumstances.
I have made no plans as yet for the round of Confirmations I would usually be organising for the period between Easter and early July . . . In the past all these dates would have been fixed the previous October! We need to wait and see what the situation will look like in the spring, what kind of numbers may be permitted at indoor gatherings once the year unfolds . . . and then the clergy will need to be given time to arrange due preparation of the candidates. It may well be that many of the 2021 Confirmations will need to take place in the second half of the year rather than the first.
Following the ordinations of Janet Finlay as priest and Pat Coleman as deacon in August /September, I also hope to hold in the near future two ordinations that should have taken place at the start of November. On the evening of January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany, I will ordain Ger James as a deacon in St Mary’s Carlow. On the evening of the Epiphany itself, I will ordain Mike O Meara as a deacon in Cashel Cathedral. Both these ordinands will serve as deacons in the context of Ordained Local Ministry in their own parishes of Carlow Union and Cashel Union and we warmly welcome them into that role among us. Again, these will be unusually quiet occasions with only a modest number of people permitted to be present – Ordinations seem so strange without crowds of parishioners in attendance, hordes of supportive clergy from the wider diocese, and warm hospitality to follow. We can but assure Ger and Mike that our welcome, while low key, is genuinely warm and that our prayers for them are legion.
Changes ever continue in the life and staffing of our schools, and it is marvellous how…as I write…an entire term has almost been completed in every school with students, teachers and Management Boards alike working fruitfully and even happily in the midst of unprecedented constraints. The work involved in making this happen has been beyond description. I was moved in the last issue to read the articles concerning the ‘retirement’ reflections of two very distinguished members of the teaching profession in the diocese, Ruth Wallace of Abbeyleix and Iris Johnston of Wexford, now entering new chapters of their lives and stepping down from the roles and offices they have held. They are examples of people who deserve our enormous gratitude; they have constantly gone beyond the call of duty in their commitment to and care for their students ; they probably have only a modest idea of the difference they have made to others in moulding and inspiring their formative years. Such teachers richly deserve our plaudits and warm wishes.
Next month, February , it will be a year since the arrival of Covid began utterly to transform our lives and even our worship. Ash Wednesday, February 26, I vividly remember as the last day of ‘normal’ worship . . . I was in Kilkenny College for the School Eucharist in the Sports Hall …hundreds of students sang and shared the Peace and the Common Cup. It is far too early to an attempt an assessment of how what we have been through will influence our attitudes, our faith, and our prayers going forward but let us dare to hope that by the end of this New Year, 2021, we may be able to begin that assessment precisely because life is looking somewhat more ‘normal’ again. Is that too much to dare to hope? By this time next year will that almost sacramental act of shaking the hand of another, or that profoundly spiritual experience of passing in Christ’s name a cup to another worshipper be known amongst us again? Surely the lesson of faith and of history is that we will in due course leave these times behind us, strengthened perhaps in character but never diminished in our hope.
Happy Year of Grace 2021
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory