Easter in Lichfield will be a time of celebration in more ways than one this year, because after two years of uncertainty Lichfield Cathedral can now open back up and mark the occasion with a blend of ceremony that will involve, not only the cathedral, but everyone in the city.
This is the introduction to Dean Adrian’s Holy Week Message from Lichfield Cathedral. See the whole message here. It is a very clear account of the events and ceremonies of the Triduum.
I am writing to send you greetings and blessings at this the most important, solemn and (yet ultimately) joyful time of the Christian year. We’re about to enter the holy three days (Triduum) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve and Day. You will be welcome at any or all of the special services we hold on each of these days. Every occasion comes with its special ceremonies and distinct focus. Let me say a few words about each but first explain the context.
I have been extremely ill of an asthma and dropsy, but received, by the mercy of GOD, sudden and unexpected relief last Thursday, by the discharge of twenty pints of water[11 litres]. Whether I shall continue free, or shall fill again, cannot be told. Pray for me.
Death, my dear, is very dreadful; let us think nothing worth our care but how to prepare for it: what we know amiss in ourselves let us make haste to amend, and put our trust in the mercy of GOD, and the intercession of our Saviour.
I am, dear Madam,
Your most humble servant,
Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell.
Lucy Porter was Johnson’s stepdaughter; he had married her widowed mother but she had died after just a few years. Although he lived and worked in London – the man who is tired of London is tired of life is his saying – he kept in touch with family and friends in Lichfield, his home town, including Lucy. At the time of writing he was an old man and sick; dropsy is now called oedema, a swelling of soft tissue especially in the legs, and may be an indication of heart failure – so carrying 11 kilos of extra weight in fluid was not good. Johnson does not say how his relief was brought about.
But his heartfelt love for his stepdaughter shines through, as well as his apprehension of death and judgement.
We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:
Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level. How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness? How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us? And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.
Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us. We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark. It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.
A prayer for us to say together:
We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people. Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation. May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes. Amen.
Chad, as patron, unites Lichfield Anglican Diocese and the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. He was the first Bishop of Lichfield in Mercia, the Kingdom of the English Midlands. He died on this day in 672. It is fitting to remember him more widely this year, as he died of a plague, having received a heavenly warning that his death was near.
Bishop Chad’s nature was to go everywhere on foot – again a parallel with our own times – but Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury ordered him to ride on horseback for long journeys. His diocese covered much of England so to visit all of it made a horse a tool of the Good News rather than a symbol of his status as bishop.
We pray that the work of vaccination may go ahead safely and surely in Lichfield Cathedral, and we pray too for the discernment to know when we should walk, not ride a short journey, and so help to protect God’s earth and our home.
This links to an article by the Dean of Lichfield, Rev Adrian Dorber. Lichfield was the first cathedral to host a mass vaccination centre. Dean Adrian begins:
I was asked to write the following piece for a daily newspaper. Whether it gets printed, or it is mangled into something unrecognisable by sub-editors, is beyond my control, but I thought you might like to see the article. Here it is:
Last week the UK death toll from Covid-19 crossed the 100,000 mark: a grim milestone in our reckoning with the impact of the virus. The swathe of bereavement the virus brings is terrible. The mental and spiritual desolation of 2020 has shown us the fault lines in the way the world is currently ordered: pointing us to the inescapable truth of our relatedness and obligations to each other. One charity dealing with bereavement has predicted a “tsunami of unresolved grief” that will take a long time to heal. Compound the death rate with the anxiety, stress and isolation lockdown and home-schooling have brought, to say nothing of lost jobs, business closures and a contracting economy, then we are right to welcome the NHS’s vaccination roll-out.
The link above will take you to the whole interesting article.
Lichfield Cathedral was the first in England to welcome a Covid Vaccination centre. The city was the birthplace of Dr Samuel Johnson, the 18th Century philosopher.
The Dean, the Very Rev’d Adrian Dorber, remarked: “Lichfield Cathedral has a long history, dating back to its mediaeval beginnings, of being a space of welcome and healing for the community. We pray every day for our nation and community, especially for healing the sick and protecting the vulnerable. It’s only right we offer the cathedral as a practical means for those prayers to be answered.”
As a young man I felt ambivalent about Catholic devotion to Mary. I remembered how the Redemptorists who staffed the parish and the teachers in the primary school served up what now seems a sentimental soup of hymns which emphasised the differences between us and the ‘wicked men [who] blaspheme thee.’
My father’s well-thumbed rosary has appeared in these reflections before. His convert’s devotion was not stultifying but I had and have difficulty in seeing the Assumption, today’s feast, as central to my faith. but belief in the Assumption of Mary – he being taken up, bodily to heaven at her death – was required of anyone who sought to become a Catholic Christian. Just as well I was a cradle Catholic!
Walsingham helped reconcile me to some Marian devotion. I think it was to do with the ecumenical nature of the town, with Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches in close proximity and, by the time of my second visit with L’Arche Kent in 1976, living in harmony.
Another pilgrimage, a few years later, threw new light on the place of Mary for me. We were visiting Lichfield Cathedral from the Dominicans’ conference centre at nearby Spode House. ‘We’ were a group of children with learning difficulties, their parents and friends. We had a service in the Cathedral and afterwards looked around. I was grabbed by one boy who wanted to show me a snake, carved on a memorial tablet: ‘It’s an obsession of his’, said his father.
We then realised that little Jenny was missing. Jenny had no speech, we did not know what she might do.
We found her, curled up in the Lady Chapel. ‘I should have known!’ said her foster-mother. Jenny preached without words but with an eloquence that reached one who is liable to let his head rule his heart even when it should be the other way around.
Chad was a missionary monk from Lindisfarne, who after assorted misadventures became Bishop of Lichfield in 669. His feast has been moved here from 2nd March, his death day, or heavenly birthday. He was a shepherd with the smell of his sheep who was tremendously respected by the people of the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia which formed his diocese. He avoided the luxury his position could have commanded, travelling on foot, not horseback. He would pray for hours at the well that bears his name. The area around his church in Lichfield has many springs which feed the Minster Pool near the Cathedral.
Saint Bede tells how Chad depended on his community life:
He had built himself a retired habitation not far from the church, wherein he was wont to pray and read in private, with a few, it might be seven or eight of the brethren, as often as he had any spare time from the labour and ministry of the Word.
Bede: Ecclesiastical History, IV.3. at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38326?msg=welcome_stranger
Together with his well, Lichfield has another precious reminder of Chad – a carved angel from his vandalised tomb. Birmingham’s St Chad’s Cathedral houses his relics, preserved through difficult times by recusant Catholics.
Through Chad we have a line from the earliest missionary monks forward to the Church of today, and as Bede reminds us, when Chad and his flock died of the plague, God translated the living stones of the Church from their earthly places to the heavenly building. May we be living stones and build each other up!