Holy Week and Easter
An extract from a note prepared by the Liturgical Commission and adapted for use in Coventry Diocese
Living through a prolonged ‘Holy Saturday’
We have already become ‘a different sort of church’ in unprecedented ways. The very place in which the body of Christ finds its identity, offers prayer, and receives solace in time of crisis – that is, the church building – is not available to us, and, as in the early days of our faith, public gatherings of Christians outside the home are forbidden. Nevertheless, we are finding ways to join in prayer and intention; to cry ‘Abba, Father’; and to recognise that we are all buried with Christ by baptism into his death, that we might walk in newness of life.
Holy Week and Easter, in particular, will give us opportunities to reflect on all of these matters. In the annual commemoration of the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we explore who we are and our relationship to the God who loves us. We are enabled to realise, quite counter-culturally, that everything that we have that is good is a gift, and not a right. We, as humans, do not always have the answers.
We can reflect that, even in the hardest of times, even in the prolonged ‘Holy Saturday’ of emptiness in which we find ourselves, there is always hope. God, whose nature is mercy, sent his Son, who experienced the fullness of our own human suffering and makes all things new. We are still called to serve those inside and outside the church, and to have care for the most vulnerable. Our historic structures still place us at the heart of the community and of public life, and as spokespeople for our ecumenical partners and for those of other faiths who are experiencing similar difficulties to our own.
In these dark times, when it is not possible to recall the death and resurrection of Christ in our church buildings, we have the opportunity of discovering how what we are now experiencing may contribute to our own ongoing journey as God’s people. In particular, the homes to which we are primarily confined offer us a place in which our faith can be discovered afresh, and some of the suggested activities gesture in that direction. In the renewed hope that will come from remembering the story of our salvation, we hope that all the faithful will experience the genuine, unreserved joy of Easter.
Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday and Easter Day
Particularly on Maundy Thursday evening and Easter morning, priests may wish to celebrate Holy Communion in their homes – including in chapels or oratories, in other rooms, or (on Easter morning) in gardens. If they do so, they should make clear that this is in intention an expression of the shared life of the Body of Christ, not the offering of an individual. Other clergy may choose to abstain from celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion for such time as this is not physically accessible to lay people.
Recognising that they do so in real but separated company with those for whom they have spiritual care, some bishops and priests may choose to stream celebrations of Holy Communion. If so, those participating remotely should be encouraged to use the Act of Spiritual Communion set out at the end of this document.
The term ‘Spiritual Communion’ has been used historically to describe the means of grace by which a person, prevented for some serious reason from sharing in a celebration of the Eucharist, nonetheless shares in the communion of Jesus Christ. The form of prayer below offers Christians an opportunity to give thanks for their communion with him, particularly at times when they would ordinarily be present at the Eucharist.
The Book of Common Prayer instructs us that if we offer ourselves in penitence and faith, giving thanks for the redemption won by Christ crucified, we may truly ‘eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ’, although we cannot receive the sacrament physically in ourselves. Making a Spiritual Communion is particularly fitting for those who cannot receive the sacrament at the great feasts of the Church, and it fulfils the duty of receiving Holy Communion ‘regularly, and especially at the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun or Pentecost’ (Canon B 15).
The Church of which we are members is not defined by the walls of a building but by the Body of Christ of which we are members. In making our communion spiritually, we are joining with Christians everywhere to be nourished by the one who tells us, ‘I am the Bread of Life’.
Participants in a streamed service of Holy Communion should not be encouraged to place bread and wine before their screens. Joining together to share in the one bread and the one cup as those physically present to one another is integral to the service of Holy Communion; this is not possible under the current restrictions, and it is not helpful to suggest otherwise. Any idea of the ‘remote consecration’ of the bread and wine should be avoided.
Priests may be assured that their homes are proper places for the celebration of Holy Communion, and are reminded that the same reverence should be accorded to the sacrament in the home as in church.
Bishop Christopher gives permission to those priests who would like to celebrate services of Holy Communion at which other participants are not physically present to do so not only on Maundy Thursday and Easter Day but also on other suitable occasions. Please note that this authorisation will not extend beyond the period of the current restrictions.
The Jewish Seder has sometimes been copied by churches, but our friends within the Jewish community have significant sensitivities around Christian appropriation of this practice, and so it is not encouraged.
In some churches a communal agape meal is shared on Maundy Thursday. It should be emphasised, if this happens, that such meals, whether conducted online or in the home, are distinct from the celebration of Holy Communion, which must be presided over by a priest. Lent, Holy Week, Easter (SPCK, 1986) shows how this can be done.
In making a Spiritual Communion, you may wish to pray all or part of the following, as you are able.
An Act of Spiritual Communion
You may wish to find a space for prayer in front of a cross, a candle, or a special place. You might choose to make your Spiritual Communion at a particular time of day, or after viewing a live streamed service.
Reflect on the day and on your relationships.
- What good things have come from God today?
- Where have I fallen short?
- What might I do tomorrow?
You may wish to say or pray
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Read the following words from Scripture. If you have access to today’s readings for Holy Communion, you may wish to read and reflect on them.
Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
Pray for the needs of the world, for your local community, and for those close to you. End with the Lord’s Prayer.
Give thanks for the saving death and resurrection of Jesus and ask him to be with you now.
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally,
I ask you to come spiritually into my heart.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day.
after the Prayer of St Richard of Chichester
You might then add one or more of the following prayers:
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your disciples,
‘I am with you always’.
Be with me today, as I offer myself to you.
Hear my prayers for others and for myself,
and keep me in your care. Amen.
help me to trust you,
help me to know that you are with me,
help me to believe that nothing can separate me from your love
revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord, in these days of mercy,
make us quiet and prayerful;
in these days of challenge,
make us stronger in you;
in these days of emptiness,
take possession of us;
in these days of waiting,
open our hearts to the mystery of your cross.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you most humble and hearty thanks
for all your goodness and loving kindness.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And give us, we pray, such a sense of all your mercies
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful,
and that we show forth your praise,
not only with our lips but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you in holiness and
righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be all honour and glory,
for ever and ever.
Conclude with the following:
The Lord bless us, and preserve us from all evil,
and keep us in eternal life. Amen.