Those who read my article in the Catholic Herald over Christmas will know that Christmas had a special poignancy for us this year, it being the first time we could celebrate the coming of Our Lord together, no longer divided, either physically or spiritually.
This coming Easter promises to be equally special, not only because of the celebration itself, but because of the birth of our child. Easter is always a time of great sadness and joy, and these themes are again echoed in our family circumstances. For the first time we should be able to celebrate the most important occasion in the Christian calendar fully united and yet we will be separate but for once not due to the demands of the Triduum: usually Easter Sunday consisted of four separate Masses, the vigil Mass, the 8am Sunday morning Mass, the 11am Service and finally on the evening of Easter Sunday we would attend Catholic Mass together.
This year seems strangely quiet and both of us are antsy. Robin, because whilst busy at work, is missing the usual Holy Week preparations, there’s been no veiling of statues and icons, no Church to prepare, no Agape supper, no Holy Thursday foot-washing and watch, no Good Friday Walk of Witness, Childrens’ Stations of the Cross, Vicarage Hot cross Buns, Solemn Liturgy and none of the weekend services. This was brought home on Passion Sunday, being ‘just a voice in the crowd’ instead of traditionally reading the part of Christ, seemed bizarre, although being ‘just a voice in the crowd’ is proving to be a humbling and enriching experience. After having led the parish Triduum for 14 years, participating as a member of the parish congregation is giving ample time for spiritual reflection, as opposed to spending Holy Week caught up in the usual whirlwind of preparation and homily writing. This week he was ruefully practicing his singing of the Exultet, something that he won’t need to worry about for a good few years and when he does, no doubt the words will be those of the new translation.
I am also restless because the baby is going to be born on Holy Thursday. Whilst on Passion Sunday we were urged to bring all of our families to all of the celebration of the Triduum, this is not going to be possible. For the first time in years, I will be unable to participate at all in any of the services, it is likely that I’ll spend the entire weekend in hospital, unless of course they see fit to throw me out 24 hours post-section on Good Friday. Given that I found recovery very difficult following the birth of my second daughter and given that it is a Bank Holiday weekend, I am envisaging that due to staff holidays that it might well be a longer stay, but we shall see. In any event, my attendance either at the vigil or the Sunday morning service is not guaranteed and my priest kindly informed me yesterday that a dispensation was unnecessary.
Last year, I attended the Easter vigil at our local parish Church alone, with just the then 4 month old baby in her car seat. Robin had already begun his journey into the Catholic Church, we knew full well that this would be our last Easter apart, we had no idea where we would be this year, our priest joked with me that perhaps Robin would be received at this year’s vigil, but little did I think that a year on, I would be about to deliver our third child. I was simply looking forward to finally enjoying a quiet, reflective Holy Week, where we could fully participate together, but it’s not to be this year, obviously Robin is planning on attending as many services as he can, hoping to be able to participate in the watch on Thursday night, and the Good Friday solemnities, but with a seven year old and a 17 month old to look after, he’s going to have his hands full!
It’s a very peculiar feeling knowing the precise date you’re going to give birth. It still feels rather surreal, I can’t quite believe it is finally happening. As I know that I will not be able to participate, or even receive communion, I’m finding it extremely difficult to focus. What isn’t helping is, that for a passionate pro-lifer, I ironically have an absolute phobia and terror of childbirth. If I could get out of it, if I could delegate, I would! Well, actually I wouldn’t, in that one can unite one’s pain, fear and suffering to Christ, I can’t think of a better or more apt way to reflect the passion and resurrection, the giving up of oneself to usher in new life, than childbirth, but this is my Gethsemane moment. I am admittedly absolutely terrified.
Though not scared of death, I am scared of the moment of judgement. I have been to confession, I need to go again after getting rather angry and upset by the on-going on-line hate campaign, I am experiencing severe self-doubt in writing this, given some of the email I have received, particularly by the rather interestingly named commentator known as “Theresa’s mother” telling me that I am a “vile and hateful person, sick and twisted, being God’s friend won’t help you now, may he strike you down”. I am anticipating similar, the moment I hit the post button. Actually I know the people who feel motivated to write these things are actually eaten away by their own hurt and anger and though I feel desperately sorry for them, it is still difficult to read, being designed to cause maximum hurt and being motivated by nothing other than spite. What I need to do is simply rise above it. There was an incredibly moving article written by Francis Philips in today’s Catholic Herald,reviewing the play that is shortly to open in Oxford, about the death of John Paul 2, coinciding with Divine Mercy Sunday. Since being introduced to Sr Faustina by the inspirational Sr Joseph Andrew, vocations director of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbour, Michigan, who was an incredible source of comfort to me during a very difficult stage in my life, (please support these sisters in your prayers), St Faustina has had a particular significance. Sr Joseph Andrew was once kind enough to send me a special Divine Mercy Rosary containing a second degree relic of this incredible saint. Francis’ Philips words are very healing in that she suggests how wonderful it would be if we could all look upon our opponents with the eyes of Divine Mercy.
So spare a thought, not only for me on Thursday, but actually for all of those who are unable to fully participate in the Eucharist this Easter for many diverse reasons. Whilst we have so much to celebrate, including the reception into the church of the members of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, there is so much new life and resurrection, firstly we need to die with Christ and I know of a few people for whom Easter will be very poignant, either because they will be unable to be received for reasons of paperwork, or others I know who are still grappling with momentous decisions of conscience as to whether or not to join the the Ordinariate. May all of us who cannot participate in the Easter Eucharist still be able to make a meaningful spiritual communion.
I hope that death will not be a reality for me, but I am still scarred by memories of lying helplessly on the operating table, surgeons covered in blood, stating that they were finding it difficult to stop the bleed, my husband obliviously cuddling a purple screeching bundle, who I was desperate to hold and feed, whilst I lapsed in and out of consciousness, until they managed to sort out the problem. This time, I know better than to bring in a CD containing what I thought to be very soothing music, namely Faure’s requiem. The procedure went on so long, that it moved onto Mozart’s requiem which was also on the disc, which whilst sublime, a crashing chorus of “Dies Irae” is not what one needs whilst in that situation.
No doubt in a week’s time, with a new baby in my arms, I will feel very silly, but for now, I am scared, restless and of course excited. And in the meantime here is a prayer to St Gerard for all expectant mothers:
O great Saint Gerard, beloved servant of Jesus Christ, perfect imitator of your meek and humble Savior, and devoted child of Mother of God, enkindle within my heart one spark of that heavenly fire of charity which glowed in your heart and made you an angel of love.
O glorious Saint Gerard, because when falsely accused of crime, you did bear, like your Divine Master, without murmur or complaint, the calumnies of wicked men, you have been raised up by God as the patron and protector of expectant mothers. Preserve me from danger and from the excessive pains accompanying childbirth, and shield the child which I now carry, that it may see the light of day and receive the purifying and life-giving waters of baptism through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.