Holy Week and Easter at Belfast Cathedral

Wednesday March 20th 2024

Crucifixion carving at the West End of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Holy Week at Belfast Cathedral begins this Palm Sunday at 11am when, instead of a sermon, those present will be led through the Passion account of Jesus’ last week, as told by St Mark in a dramatized reading of the Passion Gospel.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, said: “Those people we sit beside each week will take on the roles of Jesus and his accusers, of the disciples and of the crowds who turned so quickly from enthusiastic support to begin crying for Christ’s death. In the retelling and in the roles entered into, the gospel writer’s account will speak more powerfully to each of us.”

That evening, at 7.30pm, the full Cathedral Choir will sing Sir John Stainer’s famous Crucifixion. This devotional performance takes a musical journey in the company of the disciples into the passion of Christ which will set the scene for the following seven days. All are invited to this Palm Sunday evening performance.

Every morning in Holy Week, the Cathedral will continue its Lent discipline of 8.30am prayers in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. And from Monday to Wednesday in Holy Week there will also be a lunchtime Communion Service in the Chapel of Unity for any who are working in the city centre and can come along.

The Rev Andrew Irvine from City Centre Caplaincy with Dean Stephen Forde at the ‘Faith in the City’ Lent talk on Wednesday March 20.

On Wednesday March 27, this lunchtime Communion will be the final in the Lent series Faith in the City. Having journeyed from Babel in the book of Genesis, to Jericho and Ninevah from the pages of the Old Testament, and then to Damascus and Antioch in the New Testament, these midweek travels will end in the Jerusalem of Jesus, packed and bustling in preparation for the Passover.

Dean Forde said: “Each week through Lent, a different preacher and city guide has posed us questions to make us think and share in discussion, before concluding with Holy Communion. Do join us for the final week if you can.”

On Maundy Thursday at 7.30pm, the choir will lead the Eucharist of the Last Supper with the Washing of Feet and Stripping of the Altar.

“Through music, liturgy and preaching we will be taken back to that Last Supper which Jesus shared with his disciples, and out into the night of his betrayal by Judas on the Mount of Olives,” said the Dean. “By the end of this service, the Cathedral will be left stark and bare for our Good Friday services of devotion.”

On Good Friday, the Rev Dr Heather Morris, Methodist General Secretary, and Ecumenical Canon of Armagh is the speaker for the three-hour devotional service The Last Words of Christ from the Cross which begins at noon and carries those present through the emotions of the crucifixion to conclude at 3pm.  You are welcome to join or leave this service at any time, or to stay throughout.

At 7.30pm on Good Friday, the Cathedral Choir will lead a devotional service of Evensong.

On Holy Saturday, March 30, the Cathedral’s Easter Vigil service begins with the lighting of the Easter Fire on the steps outside. Dean Forde explained: “We will then make our candlelit way from the telling of creation, the Exodus escape of God’s people through the Red Sea, and through scripture to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as recounted in the gospel.  

“With each scripture account, and with the individual reaffirmation of our baptismal vows, we shall make our way through the Cathedral building until, bathed in light, we reach our human destination of resurrection hope.”

At the 11am service Easter Morning Eucharist, the Cathedral Choir will lead the service in the spectacular Messe Solenelle by the French composer Louis Vierne. “With its bright harmonies and soaring notes sung by our choir, this piece will take us beyond ourselves to that place where we find resurrection life once again,” said the Dean.

On Easter Sunday afternoon, at 3.30pm, a special Festive Evensong will include The Easter Anthems, an evensong setting composed by Sarah MacDonald of Ely Cathedral, and Stanford’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in C.

“The journey of Jesus through the first Holy Week calls each of us to enter our own personal pilgrimage. So that 2,000 years later, we are not distant observers, but those whose emotions and lives are shaped, challenged and changed by our own Holy Week,” Dean Forde said.

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