PLEASE NOTE – THIS LETTER WAS WRITTEN ON MARCH 12TH
Who would have thought, a few short weeks ago, that I would be writing these words on a day when the Department of Foreign Affairs has advised Irish citizens not to travel to another major European state (Italy) and when all gatherings for public worship in that state have been suspended by its government? These are extraordinary days, and by the time this letter appears in print it is likely that the situation in Ireland may have unfolded in a demanding manner we cannot yet begin to imagine.
And so, by a remarkable coincidence, Lent has become truly a desert time. The most obvious example of this as I write has been the prudent but painful withdrawal of the common cup at Holy Communion.
Never before in my lifetime has this happened in such a way ; around the time of the Reformation our forefathers strove and even suffered to ensure that Communion in both kinds was the right and the privilege of the whole congregation of the faithful – in the Middle Ages the practice had been that only the priest received from the chalice. I have commented while preaching recently in a number of churches in the diocese that to me, after the cross itself, the common cup is perhaps the best symbol I know of the faith we profess. It speaks of God’s hospitality and how that is often best experienced through human conviviality, it evokes the saving death of Christ but also anticipates the joy and exuberance of the heavenly feast, it takes the customary drink of celebration of our culture and uses it sacramentally so that we are ﬁlled with the deepest joy. In particular, the common cup is a reminder of our absolute equality and dignity before God. As the cup is passed from person to person, all distinctions of status, ethnicity, orientation or background are absolutely rebuked in the context of our equality at the holy feast. Making Eucharist without the common cup is (of course) sacramentally efﬁcacious, but is experientially deeply impoverished. I long for its return, privation only serves to emphasise its value, this desert of liturgical abstinence is a way in which we align ourselves with the confusion and travail of an anxious world. We contemplate the unshared cup ; we storm the gates of heaven with prayers for those we are suffering and for those who in a medical context work around the globe and around the clock in efforts to help God’s world deal with this pestilence.
And in the midst of it all we strive to continue the life and fellowship of the diocese, although events will be inevitably restricted and plans are difﬁcult to make
– we rejoice at the nomination of the Reverend Edna Wakely, at present curate in the Limerick City parishes, to the incumbency of Castlecomer Union and look forward to her arrival probably around the end of May
– We wish the Reverend Alison Seymour – Whiteley well as she steps down from her ministry as priest in charge of Templemore Union and thank her for her considerable contribution there both pastoral and administrative
– We look forward to the return of the Reverend Nicola Halford from maternity leave and thank the Reverend David Bayne for his excellent care of Enniscorthy and Monart Union during recent months.
– With both thanksgiving for his life and sadness at his loss, we recall the ministry of priest, thinker and ﬁne musician the Reverend Henry Keogh who will be remembered by many both in Castlecomer and in Kilscoran. His funeral took place in Dungarvan where he had lived in recent times on February 14
– The pages of this magazine often and rightly contain reference to ‘signiﬁcant ‘ birthdays – I always love to read of them and to rejoice at the inspirational faithfulness of those ‘full of years’ who continue to enrich our diocese life. While not wishing to single out one big birthday too much more than another, I do have a special care for our clerical ‘familia’, our clergy and those with whom they have most closely shared their lives and homes. As I write one of our most wonderful and inspiring clergy widows, Mrs Iris Dungan of Monart, is about to have her 100th birthday. I offer her hearty congratulations – to visit her is always a tonic and to contemplate her incredible garden is a joy beyond words.
Every blessing for the journey of Holy Week and the joy of Easter, however demanding and uncertain the intervening times may be. I myself hope to experience anew the reality of Resurrection as bread is broken by the lake at Stradbally Co Laois at the sunrise Eucharist (commencing at 0555) on Easter morning.
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory