My dear friends
Clearly I am not yet in a position to comment on churchgoing trends in Armagh Diocese but I do know that a general drift in Irish Christianity today is that Holy Week and Easter – at one time the very centre of the life of most parishes – have become far less rigorously observed by churchpeople than would ever have been the case a generation or two ago. Yet Holy Week (Good Friday in particular) and Easter are the very heart of the Christian faith. It is this season, coming upon us later in March, that illuminates all that the Christian Gospel is saying to us, and it is this which gives us hope for our own lives, and in every situation.
At present there seems to be a tiresome trend developing in some parts of the Church for “playing down” the Christian creeds, and suggesting that they are so rooted in human history and in the philosophical limitations of a distant age that they may safely be seen as secondary to real faith, the true heart of the Christian faith. This is not only extraordinarily patronising but also downright brainless. Those who wrote the creeds were neither superstitious nor unintelligent and it is one of the follies of this post-modern age to assume that history can teach us nothing, and that we are inevitably more sophisticated and knowledgeable than our ancestors in the faith, and even, perhaps, than Our Lord himself!
The message of Holy Week and Easter, expressed definitively in the creeds, remains the same through the ages for the Christian believer: That God in Christ is – uniquely, decisively, and fully – God within humanity, that this same Christ died at the hands of a humanity which is in every age flawed and sinful, but that he broke through death to give us the promise not only of a life beyond this world, but also of a quality of life - eternal life - which transforms our existence, not only for the future but for every day of our present life. Through this promise of eternal life we are called to bring Christian transformation and healing into the world around us.
Holy Week and Easter should be treated with the utmost faithfulness by us all. Otherwise, in St Paul’s phrase, we Christians are indeed “of all people, most to be pitied..” I do not believe that the Christian Gospel ever needs us to apologise for it. We are to proclaim it with confidence. And I hope and pray that you will all share with others that confidence and certainty through this coming Holy Week and Eastertide.