Renewed energy of Easter
The ancient spring festival of Easter, which finished yesterday, still has a deep spiritual meaning for many
THE MAGIC of lighting candles from a Paschal fire outside a tiny church on an island on the edge of Clew Bay resonates each Easter for me. Indeed, it was during my first Easter sojourn on Clare Island, with a group of fellow-students, that I discovered the sun dances at dawn on Easter Sunday morning. As I sat on the steps of the presbytery watching my college friends, Fathers Pat O’Brien and Pat Donnellan, sail towards Inishturk for Mass, I breathed in the stunning beauty of the bay from Croagh Patrick to Caher Island, the Mweelras to the peeping nose of Inishbofin; the distant Twelve Pins framing the skyline as if this beautiful piece of the planet was the centre of the universe.
It was April 6, 1980, and spring had truly arrived. Young lambs wobbled on soft wooly legs, frost encrusted earth had been turned, currachs were being prepared for new expeditions on the quietened ocean. A resurgent sun shimmied and sparkled over an ancient landscape that to this day – despite the secularisation of society, the collapse in vocations, the ongoing Euro crisis – reveals a cross-millennial narrative about our deep spiritual roots. It tells a story of Bealtaine and Easter, paganism and Christianity, despair and hope.
Ritualistic fires from the Hill of Uisneach to Cruachán Aigle, now Croagh Patrick, were lit to mark the beginning of summer and the resurrection of Jesus whose road to Calvary was replicated in the privations of Lent. Much of this deep connection with the seasonal rituals that separated the year for our forebears appears to have faded and become irrelevant in our more urbanised society. But like the return to cottage craftsmanship and organic farming, the rich nuances of a culture that was intrinsically connected to nature has become appealing once again, as the god of consumerism shows its shallow side.
There is an undoubted irony in the fact that on Clare Island over Easter weekend it was the laity who was in charge of the Saturday night Mass, and the Ceremony of Light. While this small community is still well-supported by the priests of the Diocese of Tuam, shortages in their numbers means that the laity, like on Inishturk too, runs some of the weekly services. Here Mary McCabe from the island leads off some special thoughts on Easter.
Secretary Parish Council
“EASTER has always been a special time in the spiritual lives of the people of Clare Island. Because we are in close touch with the earth and ever-dependent on the land and sea for survival, the Lenten journey has a special significance for us. The age old practice of fasting and ‘giving up’, or more recently of ‘taking up’, is still very much in vogue among young and old.
“Our little island church, which lies in the shadow of the 16 century Cistercian Abbey, lends itself to very meaningful Holy Week ceremonies. Overlooking the ocean and directly across from the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick it is easy for the small island community to embrace the whole concept of prayer and fasting.
“Nowhere is the involvement of the laity more evident than here in the parish of Clare Island. Losing our resident priest catapulted the community into greater involvement with the day-to-day running of Church affairs on the island. It was a ‘do or die’ situation as the people came together and took it upon themselves to continue the long tradition of weekly services in the 150 year-old church.
Imagine our shock and dismay when we were told early in 2001 that our resident priest, Fr Ned Crosby, was leaving and would not be replaced. At that time we were only vaguely aware of the full extent of the shortage of priests and the far-reaching effects this would have on parishes throughout Ireland. Suddenly, we were losing a central element of our close-knit community and a resident island priest would now be a thing of the past.
The newly formed Pastoral Council was given the task of carrying out the work of the priest and of ensuring that the faith of our ancestors be passed on to the next generation. We had to learn quickly and had to ‘boldly brave new frontiers’
That was 12 years ago and now it is commonplace for the laity of Clare Island to organise appropriate preparation for all the liturgical feasts, celebrate Sunday Service and even receive the remains of the deceased into the Church. On this Holy Saturday night the Vigil Service with the special ceremony of light was carried out, in total, by lay members of the community. As usual, it was a very meaningful and well-attended Easter celebration.”
Sinn Féin Councillor
“EASTER is a very special time of year for me. In fact I have always found Easter to be a more spiritual time than any other time of the year. I have a strong belief in Our Lady so I suppose I look at Easter from her perspective of watching her son being persecuted and the despair she must have felt as a mother. I got a lovely little book one time I was in Medgugorje that outlines the stations of the Cross with thoughts of Our Lady at each station so I use that to reflect. I love the sense of hope and new beginning that Easter Sunday brings.
The dawn Mass back in Faulmore is very special. To get there early and see the people streaming over the hill is a wonderful sight. Since joining politics, Easter Sunday is a very busy day for me attending commemorations. This Easter Sunday I headed to Cavan to speak at Kiloughter Graveyard, Redhills. Wearing the Easter Lily is very important to me. The Easter Lily honours those who sacrificed their lives in 1916 and symbolises unity, equality and prosperity for all Irish people. I think it is more important than ever that people wear an Easter Lily to show they still believe in the vision set out in the Proclamation. The celebration of Easter in the spring time every year gives us great hope. Just as nature dies and goes back into the earth during the winter, and at this time bursts forth into new life - the celebration of Easter is very similar.”
Archbishop Michael Neary
“DURING Holy Week we commemorate the suffering, the Way of the Cross, the death of Jesus Christ and we walk with him in solidarity. From that experience of profound loss and sadness and desolation the great event of our Redemption emerges in the brightness of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday morning.
“The journey of spring and Easter has many parallels also to recent events in the Church, particularly with the election of Pope Francis as Pope. It is significant that he chose the name of a saint that was very much at home with suffering and sadness and an experience of struggling to see God in the ordinary, simple gifts of the world around us, in people and creation. St Francis was a saint that had a profound sense of the presence of God in the world around him in the ordinary things that we are so fortunate to have. Like the season of Spring and the wonderful message of our Easter faith – the renewal of energy and enthusiasm that the new pope has given us is a beacon of light and hope to so many.”
AS the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion approaches there will be many opportunistic attempts by politicians to rewrite history, by artists to re-imagine the Ireland of that time, and by entrepreneurs to capitalise on its potential monetary dividends. Nobody captures the complexity of this idealistic uprising better than our national poet, WB Yeats in his poem, Easter 1916.
This is the final verse: “Too long a sacrifice/ Can make a stone of the heart./ O when may it suffice?/ That is Heaven’s part, our part/ To murmur name upon name,/ As a mother names her child/ When sleep at last has come/ On limbs that had run wild./What is it but nightfall?/ For England may keep faith/ For all that is done and said./ We know their dream; enough/ To know they dreamed and are dead;/ And what if excess of love/ Bewildered them till they died?/ I write it out in a verse/ MacDonagh and MacBride/ And Connolly and Pearse/ Now and in time to be/ Wherever green is worn,/ Are changed utterly:/ A terrible beauty is born.