The Archbishops of England and Wales have written to all Catholics on behalf of their brother Bishops. The Archbishops encourage us to continue observing the lockdown restrictions in solidarity for the common good, and to pray and prepare for the moment when our churches can safely be reopened. You can read the full text of the Archbishops’ letter here.
If we live in the city, we may have an idealised picture of life in the country. The life of a shepherd may seem like a calm and peaceful existence, walking on the hills in the sunshine. The people of Jesus’ time knew differently. Shepherds were rough, tough men who lived in the fields with their sheep. Robbery and violence were commonplace; the shepherd might have to fight off thieves who came to steal or kill the sheep that he was watching over.
With this parable, Jesus is contrasting himself with the leaders of Israel – the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees. They are ‘bad shepherds,’ who do not know the people or care for them. Immediately before this parable in John’s Gospel comes the story of Jesus restoring the sight of a man born blind. The Pharisees, instead of rejoicing at the healing miracle, are angry with both Jesus and the blind man himself, because the cure was performed on the Sabbath. Their concern for the Law has blinded them to the good that Jesus is doing, and to the power of God working in him.
Jesus, in contrast, is a shepherd who knows each one of his sheep – every disciple – by name. The sheep know his voice and they trust him. Jesus’ desire for his sheep is that each one should have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10.) He wants every one of us to be fully alive, and he gives his own life to free us from our sins. In the words of St Peter in today’s Second Reading: ‘By his wounds you have been healed.’
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, when the Church prays for vocations to priesthood and consecrated life. The Church needs priests who will be good shepherds; pastors who know the people in their care, who look after them and earn their trust. Pope Francis has called on priests to ‘live with the smell of the sheep’ – to share the lives of the people they serve. Let us pray today that many young men will respond generously to God’s call to serve his people.
The World Day of Prayer for Vocations to Priesthood and Consecrated Life, is today. The seminarians of our diocese have prepared a Scripture Rosary to pray for vocations – you can access it here: http://www.rcdhn.org.uk/vocations/pdf/2020/Rosary%20for%20Vocations.pdf
Recognising that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, special Masses will be celebrated for the sick, their families, care workers and NHS staff. These Masses will be celebrated each Thursday at 7pm, by a different Catholic Bishop in his cathedral. This Thursday, 7th May, Mass will be celebrated by Rt Rev Marcus Stock in Leeds Cathedral. You can watch the Mass on the cathedral’s Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-xVdN6rMCG0sSgxk8Rulow
You can find out more, including how to watch the live stream of the Masses, on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference website, here.
These two disciples are disappointed and dejected. They had high hopes for Jesus. They hoped he might be the one to set their people free from Roman rule. But their hopes were dashed when Jesus was crucified. Now they are walking the dusty road away from Jerusalem, leaving behind all their hopes and all their faith in him. Are they even his disciples any more?
When Jesus joins the two, they don’t recognise him. Jesus does what he so often does; he starts a conversation. He listens to their story. They have heard the news of the empty tomb, but in their dejection, they can’t imagine that Jesus could have risen from the dead. And so, patiently, Jesus explains it all to them; that Moses and the prophets, the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures, were preparing the way for the coming of the Christ.
The encounter prompts a generous response from the two disciples: they invite Jesus to stay and eat with them. And their hospitality is rewarded; when he breaks the bread, they recognise him, and they are transformed. Disappointment is replaced by faith; confusion by understanding. They set out at once, back to Jerusalem; back along the road that they have just walked, but now filled with joy, and ready to witness to their encounter with the risen Lord.
In normal times, our shared celebration of Mass is the heart of our Christian life. We listen to the Scriptures, we come to the table together and we receive the Bread of Life that the Lord breaks for us. Our sharing in the Eucharist transforms us, nourishes our faith, and prompts us to go out and pass on the Good News that we have heard. At present, we are unable to gather as a community to celebrate Mass. But we can still encounter the risen Christ in prayer – in our homes, on our daily walk. We can still hear the Word of God and be transformed by it, and we can still witness. Our hearts can still burn within us.
In light of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the Centre for Catholic Studies have had to take the decision to postpone this summer’s Early Modern British and Irish Catholicism (EMBIC) conference. We have been adhering to the University’s official guidance and, following meetings over the last couple of days, we have decided that it is best to make a decision now regarding the conference.
It is likely that, at the time in July when the conference was due to be held, restrictions will still be in place on travel and large gatherings. The EMBIC conferences are very deliberately international events and, rather than hold one with many people not able to attend, we would rather wait until, hopefully, we can all gather to discuss the topic.
If possible, it is hoped to run the conference in summer 2021, and an announcement will be made in due course.
Poor Thomas. His name has become part of our language – ‘doubting Thomas.’ But Thomas wasn’t any worse than the rest of Jesus’ apostles. They all ran away when Jesus was arrested. They all let Jesus down. And, even after Jesus has risen from the dead, we find the apostles locked in a room together, out of fear. It took time for them to understand the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection. Probably they felt guilty for having failed him. Perhaps they feared that, when they saw Jesus again, he would be angry with them.
That’s the first transformation that happens in this Gospel story. Jesus greets his disciples, not with anger, but with the words, ‘Peace be with you.’ He brings them healing for the trauma they have suffered in watching him die, and forgiveness for their betrayal. He brings them peace.
Another transformation happens eight days later, when Thomas sees the risen Jesus for himself, and Jesus invites him to see and touch the wounds of his crucifixion. Thomas is led from doubt to faith. His doubt makes him an important witness for us. All four Gospels make it clear that Jesus was really dead – really crucified – and truly risen. The disciples didn’t experience a vision, or believe that Jesus was somehow ‘with them in spirit.’ The risen Jesus is the crucified Jesus. He has been raised up and glorified by God the Father, but he still bears the wounds of his crucifixion.
The disciples are transformed by their encounter with the risen Christ. He leads them from fear to peace, and from doubt to faith; faith that brings them the fullness of life. And Jesus gives the disciples power, by the Holy Spirit, to forgive sins in his name. The ones who needed forgiveness become the ministers of forgiveness to others. Through the witness of the first disciples, we, who have not seen him, can believe in him. Today we are called to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and to have life in his name.
Please pray for our Prison Chaplains, who are facing particular challenges in their ministry during the pandemic; for all who work in the prison and probation services, for prisoners and their families, and for the victims of crime.
In addition to the regular programme there will be a live-streamed 8-day retreat, led by Monsignor John Armitage. This will start after Compline at 8pm on Sunday 19th April and finish on Sunday 26th April. Details of the retreat programme are given on the Shrine website: www.walsingham.org.uk
What brings Mary of Magdala to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week? It can only be love. We visit the graves of those we loved. Mary loved Jesus dearly in life, and after watching him die, she goes to his tomb to mourn for him.
But Mary doesn’t find what she expected. The stone has been moved – perhaps Jesus’ body has been taken. The tomb is empty. The linen cloths that wrapped Jesus’ dead body have been cast aside. The truth dawns gradually on Mary, and on Peter and the beloved disciple. They see the empty tomb, and slowly they begin to believe. The prophecies have been fulfilled. He is risen.
The Gospel stories reflect the wonder that Jesus’ disciples must have experienced at his Resurrection. God had done something that they could not have expected or imagined. They had seen their Lord die on the cross, but now the tomb was empty. Death was defeated. Such a mysterious truth took time to dawn in their minds and hearts.
In a normal year, the Church’s liturgy helps us to share in the experience of the disciples. After forty days of penance in Lent, we enter into the drama of Holy Week, and encounter the risen Christ with joy on Easter Sunday. This year, because of necessary precautions against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, we have not been able to celebrate the Holy Week liturgies together in our churches. Instead, we have been asked to unite in prayer, with one another and with the Church across the world; to celebrate in spirit, though we cannot be physically present.
This strange and frightening time will test our faith. We may feel afraid, for ourselves and for those we love. The Church’s funeral rite includes this prayer over the grave:
Lord Jesus Christ,
by your own three days in the tomb,
you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
and so made the grave a sign of hope
that promises resurrection even as it claims our mortal bodies.
The Good News of Easter is a timeless truth. The Lord is risen, and we are his witnesses.
This year, we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection in strange and difficult circumstances. We cannot gather in church for the liturgy as we usually do. But we are united in prayer with one another, and with the Church all over the world. I have been struck by how well our community has pulled together, and how many offers of help I have received. Please keep in touch; pray for those who are suffering because of the pandemic, and those who are working to combat it; look out for family, friends and neighbours; and look forward to the time when we can gather again as a community to celebrate the Resurrection. Fr Andrew.
The Pope’s Easter liturgies will be live streamed on https://www.vaticannews.va/en
The Urbi et Orbi blessing will be shown live on BBC1 at 11.00am on Easter Sunday.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is inviting all Christians to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection by singing Easter hymns at 10am on Easter Sunday. Details at ctbi.org.uk/sing-resurrection/
St Cuthbert’s Church will remain closed until further notice. All Masses and liturgies will continue to be celebrated without a congregation.
Palm Sunday: Bishop Robert has directed that palms should be blessed at Mass, so that they can be distributed to the faithful when it is possible to do so.
Diocesan Chrism Mass: This will be postponed until it can be celebrated with a gathering of clergy and people.
Holy Thursday: The Mass of the Lord’s Supper will be celebrated, without the Washing of Feet or the procession to the Altar of Repose.
Good Friday: The Liturgy of the Passion will be celebrated, with special intentions included in the Universal Prayer.
Easter Vigil: The new Paschal Candle will be blessed and lit, without the lighting of the Easter fire.
You are invited to join in prayer with all of these celebrations, and with the praying of the Office of Readings on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Remember that Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence.
Mass Intentions can be requested by email, telephone or letter. No offering is needed for a Mass intention.
Bishop Robert has written a Pastoral Letter for Holy Week. You can read it online here.
This year’s Good Friday Walk of Witness is cancelled. However, the words of the service are available at www.durhamchurches.uk for you to pray them at home.
The Holy Places collection, which supports the Christian community in the Holy Land and would normally be taken on Palm Sunday, has been postponed.
The Little Sisters of the Poor have launched an emergency appeal to cover the cost of Personal Protection Equipment for staff at their care home in Newcastle, and the extra costs of caring for their residents during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can donate online at www.littlesistersofthepoor.co.uk/donate-here/
Who is this?
‘Who is this?’ the people ask, as the Lord enters Jerusalem. And the reply comes back: ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth.’ Jesus is given many different titles in the course of Matthew’s account of the Passion. Some are proclaimed in joy and faith, others in cruel mockery. When he enters the city, the crowd acclaim him as a prophet and as ‘Son of David,’ recognising a king who comes to his people humbly, riding on a donkey. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is in stark contrast to the power of Rome, or the pomp of Herod’s court. He is modelling a different kind of leadership and authority.
When Judas greets Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ – Teacher – it is a traitor’s signal. When the High Priest asks Jesus if he is the Christ and the Son of God, he describes himself instead as Son of Man – the Messiah who has come to fulfil the Scriptures, and who will be seated at God’s right hand. The claim is blasphemous to the Jews; it is enough to seal Jesus’ fate.
Jesus’ last title – King of the Jews – is nailed above the Cross, as a dire warning to any other king who might be tempted to rebel against Roman rule. And yet, the Roman centurion and his squad recognise Jesus as a ‘Son of God.’
The Passion story prompts us to ask, ‘Who is Jesus for me?’ In normal times, the liturgy invites us to enter into the story. We sing ‘Hosanna’ with the crowds as Jesus enters Jerusalem; we walk with him to Calvary; we wait quietly on Holy Saturday for the Lord to burst from the tomb on Easter Sunday. This year, we cannot celebrate the liturgies of Holy Week together. Instead, we are called to enter individually into the Lord’s Passion; to walk prayerfully with him in our own homes; to share his suffering in our own hearts, knowing ourselves to be in communion with one another and with the Church around the world. We witness to our faith in Christ by our care and compassion for one another, and we wait in hope for new life.
Readings for daily Mass, and the texts for the Prayer of the Church, can be found at www.universalis.com Texts for the next seven days are available free, or you can subscribe to the Universalis app for unlimited access.
Magnificat includes Morning, Evening and Night Prayer, the daily Mass Readings, a daily mediation and Saint of the Day. It is currently available free at: https://us.magnificat.net/free
Other resources, including links to live streamed Masses, can be found on the diocesan website, www.rcdhn.org.uk and the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales: www.cbcew.org.uk