Holy Week and Easter at Belfast Cathedral

Friday April 5th 2019

The recently retired Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, the Right Rev Dr Bob Gillies, will be guest preacher at two key services in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, during Holy Week.

Parishes in the Mid Belfast Rural Deanery of Connor Diocese will share in Services in the Cathedral on Palm Sunday and during the course of Holy Week.

Bishop Bob Gillies.

Bishop Gillies will preach at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, staring at 7.30pm on April 18, and the following day’s Good Friday Three Hour Service which runs from 12 noon to 3pm.

Bishop Bob Gillies served all his ministry in Scotland, and was appointed Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney in 2006, retiring in 2016. He currently serves on the National Board of the Church Army and is an Honorary Research Fellow in the University of Glasgow. He has written a number of theological and devotional books.

He has been a friend of the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, for more 30 years, and shared in conducting the Dean’s marriage to Fiona.

Dean Forde said: “Bishop Gillies will bring an insightful and prayerful understanding to our ‘Approach to the Cross of Jesus.’ He will preach at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, with its re-creation of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and the concluding Stripping of the Altar. Then on Good Friday, between 12 noon and 3pm, he will guide our thoughts with seven meditations on the Words of Jesus from the Cross of Calvary.”


Holy Week at Belfast Cathedral begins with the Palm Sunday Service on April 14 which will be broadcast live on Radio Ulster at 10.15am (the congregation must be seated by 9.50am).

Dean Forde said: “In a service specially prepared for radio, we shall share our Palm Sunday procession through the Cathedral. We shall then explore what the day meant for all those present on the first Palm Sunday, including the disciples of Jesus, the Passover crowds in Jerusalem, the ill-at-ease Roman authorities and the unsettled religious leaders.

“What did it mean when Jesus dared to ride into Jerusalem astride a donkey to make clear his Messianic kingship and his total obedience to the will and way of God?”

Dean Forde added: “And we shall do so within the convulsions of our own nation trying to understand what is happening with Brexit.”


On Palm Sunday afternoon, St Anne’s will welcome members of the parishes of the Mid Belfast Rural Deanery (Connor Diocese) to the 3.30pm Evensong as they begin a Holy Week of shared services with the Cathedral.

Mid Belfast Rural Deanery, of which the Cathedral parish is also a part, gathers together church communities including St George’s on High Street, St Luke and St Stephen’s at Millfield, St Michael’s and St Matthew’s on the Shankill Road, St Mary’s with Holy Redeemer on the Crumlin Road, St Mark’s at Ligoniel, Emmanuel and Holy Trinity at Ardoyne and Ballysillan, and St Columba’s and St Andrew’s at Whiterock and Highfield.

“Although each parish is distinct, together we will share a journey of discipleship that takes parishioners through the story and the emotions of Holy Week to the cross of Good Friday and the resurrection joy of Easter Day,” Dean Forde said. “Within in the Holy Week Services to be held in the Cathedral we shall also make that same journey.”


All are invited to Special Choral Evensongs at 5.30pm from Monday April 15 to Wednesday April 17.

“Instead of sitting stuck in rush hour traffic, why not spend 40 minutes enfolded in the majesty of our Choral Evensong and challenge of the Holy Week story?” the Dean said.

“At the heart of these Holy Week Evensongs, each night the choir will sing an anthem from the powerful St John Passion written by the contemporary composer Bob Chilcott. Evensong will also include a short meditation by the Cathedral clergy on People of the Passion,’ and a congregational hymn.”

Bishop Gillies will preach on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Good Friday will end with a Liturgy for Good Friday with the Cathedral choir starting at 7.30pm and led by the Dean.


On Holy Saturday, April 20, the dramatic Easter Vigil Service will start with the lighting of the Easter Fire on the steps of the Cathedral at 8.30pm, and from the flames of the Easter Fire, the Pascal Candle will be lit.

Easter fire burning on the steps of St Anne’s Cathedral.

“Once indoors, and at each place of significance within the Cathedral, the congregation will retell the salvation story of God’s actions through the history of the bible, from Creation and the Flood to the Resurrection of Jesus in the darkness of the first Easter morning,” Dean Forde said.

“And throughout the shared retelling of this world’s story, we shall each reaffirm the telling of our own baptismal promises, symbolised by the individual candles we shall each hold, lit from the fire of Easter resurrection.

“This ancient service with its symbols of baptism and light, and its evocative music in plainsong and hymns set in the soaring architecture of the Cathedral at night, speaks powerfully to a society dissatisfied with the shallow and temporary and searching for meaning and purpose.”

Dean Forde added that the Easter Vigil service, originally part of every new believers’ preparation for Confirmation, allows us each to reaffirm our own faith and commitment.


On Easter Morning April 21, the Cathedral’s festival services of resurrection joy begin at 10am with Holy Communion for Easter Day in the Chapel of Unity. At 11am, there is the Easter Festival Choral Eucharist, to which visitors to Belfast and the whole Cathedral congregation are invited.

Belfast Cathedral’s Easter celebrations will conclude with the beauty of Choral Evensong for Easter Afternoon starting at 3.30pm.


On Easter Tuesday, April 23, the Cathedral will once again throw open its doors from 11am-3pm for Belfast’s Biggest Easter Egg Hunt.

This event will be supported by Jill Hamilton, Connor Children’s Project Development Officer, and a team of volunteers.

“We can expect the Cathedral to be packed with children of all ages, hunting out Easter eggs from the hidden corners and creating Easter crafts at the activity tables,” Dean Forde said.

He encouraged children and grandchildren to come along and ‘explore the meaning of Easter with and beyond the world of chocolate!’

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