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3 April 2016
posted by Canon Dakin on 05-04-2016

In ancient Christian Rome the baptism of catechumens at the vigil on Holy Saturday was not for them the end. During Easter week the Bishop gathered them together to explain the meaning of the sacraments they had received on Easter night, Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. We have to remember that before they had been baptised they had never attended the liturgy of the Eucharist - after the homily and before the Bidding Prayers the catechumens had been told to leave the church - the Eucharist was only for those who had been baptised. They had come to believe in Jesus as Son of God and Saviour but the sacraments were kept secret and it was not only in Rome but throughout the Christian world at that time that the bishops occupied Easter Week giving instructions on the sacraments. Many of these talks - those of St Ambrose in Milan, for instance - have been preserved and since they were not meant for theologians but for ordinary people they are quite vivid and stimulating.   

 Easter Monday was for us a Bank Holiday - in Rome the whole of Easter Week was a holiday so people were free to attend church. On the Monday the newly baptised were taken to St Peter’s. on Tuesday to St Paul’s. on Wednesday to the tomb of their favourite Roman saint, the martyr St Lawrence; Thursday saw them in the Pantheon, dedicated as a church to which bodies of martyrs had been brought from the catacombs to avoid desecration by invaders, Friday they were in the church of the Twelve Apostles. On Saturday they were back at the Lateran to be ceremoniously divested of the white garments they had worn since baptism. Today they were taken finally, to the church of St Pancratius or Pancras.  Just south of the Vatican there is a steep hill called the Janiculum.  At the far end, where the slope begins to descend is St Pancratius’, who, as a boy of fourteen, was ready to die rather than to deny his faith. So these men and women, who had been Christians for just a week, newly born into the faith, were brought here to impress on them the ideal - they too were to be ready to witness to their faith even by death. All week they had been taken to places associated with martyrs - the lesson implicit in those places - especially the tombs of Peter and Paul - was that sensible men don’t die for fairy tales.  That they were prepared to die is the strongest proof of the truth of what they said they saw and heard. The aim was to strengthen the faith of these new members of the Church.

We have our martyrs. This year is the Year of Mercy. The word ‘mercy‘inScripture is often translated ‘loving kindness’. We are invitedto go on pilgrimage to the Cathedral where aHoly Door has been designated. We pass through the Holy Door not simply to receive a token of God’s loving kindness but to be inspired to come out again prepared to spread the loving kindness we have received.  So when shall we go? When it was discussed at our deanery conferenceit was suggested that since August 7th fallsthis year on a Sunday we might go as a deanery on August 7th. What is special about August 7th?It is the anniversary of the execution of Edward Bamber, our local martyr, born in Bispham, who with two other priests was the last to die for his faith on the moor above Lancaster. The idea is that we go to the place where he died and walk in processiondown the hill to enter the cathedral by the Holy Door. These men were prepared to die in order to be instruments of God’s loving kindness in providingthe sacraments for their people.  Surely their memory should be inspirational still today 

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