Three days to change the world
One of the great joys of getting older, so I have been encouragingly told, is the wisdom of years that you gain, and all those marvellous experiences through which we pass which add to the compendium of our knowledge.
While that may be true, I have to admit that one of the downsides of growing older is that aches and pains can also multiply and trips to the doctor increase! It is just one of the realities of my own life that I have always had a certain amount of trouble with my eyes, particularly my right eye. And over the last year or so it had become obvious that my sight was deteriorating dramatically, and I was having increasing trouble, for example, in reading the various books and pieces of paper I was presented with at the Altar.
Fortunately, a familiarity with the various texts for the Eucharist (and larger screen TVs!) made this not too great a burden for me, but eventually in November last and in January this year I had to have a couple of operations on my eyes to remove the cataracts that had formed with age. The lenses in the eyes tend to harden with the years, so focussing becomes limited, and the lenses themselves become opaque, no longer letting light through in the way they should. These days, of course, with the wonders of modern science and medicine, the lenses can be replaced and sight stabilised and restored remarkably easily and with little risk.
But it is only after such an operation that you realise quite how blurred your vision had become and how, with surgery, the clarity of the world in which we live and work has been restored.
We are entering into one of the holiest seasons of the year, one of the most meaningful, and indeed one of my favourite seasons – Lent, which leads up to the wondrous celebration of the Easter Mystery over those Great Three Days which conclude Holy Week. It can be a most wonderful time of renewal and growth on our pilgrim journey towards the Kingdom, if we have eyes to see and hearts open to what God wants to grant us. But familiarity with the worship of this season, no matter how well done, sometimes dulls us to what it is we should be experiencing – perhaps a bit like those wretched cataracts that dulled my own sight.
Having had my sight restored these last months, I would love all of us to have our spiritual sight restored this Lent and Eastertide, and I venture to suggest that if we all enter into the great acts of worship of this season with eyes wide-open then as a community we would find our lives enriched, and we would become like yeast or leaven within the life of the wider Church. Is that too much to hope?
For a bishop the Triduum is prefaced by the annual Chrism Mass at which his priests, gathered in the presence of God’s Holy People and their bishop, renew their promises to be faithful in their ministry in imitation of Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, by teaching the Christian Faith without self-regard, solely for the well-bring of the people they are sent to serve. And then the bishop blesses the three Holy Oils which are used in ministry throughout the Church’s life from womb to tomb, oils used for strengthening, healing, and the bestowal of the Spirit’s gifts. The oils are sent out from this Liturgy to all the parishes as the sign and effectual symbol of their sharing the bishop’s ministry in imitation of Christ the Great High Priest. If you possibly can, please make every effort to join your bishops at this wonderful Service before you launch into your parish’s celebration of the Triduum. And if you have never been, then go!
Though we most often regard the three significant liturgies of the Triduum as separate events – Last Supper, Calvary, and Empty Tomb – in reality they are one great liturgy, drawing us over the three days from one location and part of the drama to the next, as with Christ we ‘pass over’ from the death of sin to life eternal. These are wonderful dramas in which we take our place not as spectators but participants; we are invited to be part of the ‘action’ of the play, not just those who sit on the side-lines and watch. And as with Christ we pass from the ancient ritual of the Jewish supper table (where we temper our pride as feet are washed, and decide whose side we will take) to mount Calvary’s Altar-Tree, our willingness to bear a share in the Lord’s death can, God willing, lead us inexorably through the darkness of the stone-cold tomb to the bright newness of undying life. And we will find ourselves as those who live as people of the Risen King inhabiting the light of Easter, rather than those who still reside in death’s ‘gloomy portal’.