Featuring the longest nave in the country, and ablaze with candles in recent days, Winchester Cathedral has reopened for worship but not before remembering victims of the pandemic.
The Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle, has written movingly of her experience of giving the sacrament this Sunday to those starved of touch during lockdown:
It’s a great joy that, once again, gatherings for worship, with safe social distancing, are taking place in the cathedral. As we gradually take steps towards recovery, from the effects of the coronavirus, the resumption of the Eucharist brings an end to a fast both from the sacrament and from community gathering. Perhaps, like me, you have felt a hunger for both.
The ancient cathedral has seen suspension of public worship before. A dispute between King John and Pope Innocent III banned all services in England between March 1208 and May 1213. Centuries later the storming of the cathedral during the English Civil War disrupted worship for several years. The cathedral has stood and withstood through war, plague and desecration. A few months of silence is tiny in the perspective of eternity, but it’s so good to hear prayers, scripture and organ music echo against the ancient stones again.
As people came forward to receive the host into outstretched hands, I carefully followed instructions, placing the tiny circle of wafer without making physical contact. I wondered how many people coming forward have not touched, or been touched by, another person for months. Yet, in contrast, that tiny circle of wafer, the body of Christ, was given to be touched and taken and eaten. God gives himself to us, without restraint, so that we may become more like him.
The elements of bread and wine are made from wheat and grapes, once scattered, then gathered in. The Eucharist gathers scattered people into one body and then sends them out again to be Christ in the world. It was intensely moving to be part of the re-introduction of gathering for worship in the cathedral.
As we look to the future, it’s with awareness that the economic effects of the pandemic will be harsh and particularly so for a growing number of unemployed, disadvantaged and poor people. I hope that we will continue to be hungry for justice and a sharing of the good things and opportunities that we richly enjoy.
The Eucharist will be offered in the cathedral on Sundays at 8.00 am and Wednesdays at noon. Returning to the building won’t mean, however, an end to our online worship. Having experienced the benefits of worshipping with people, in their homes, from all parts of the world, we intend to continue to do this alongside worship in the cathedral.
Next Sunday (12 July 2020) sees one of the highlights of our shared life with the Liturgy of the Foundation and the focus on our calling as cathedral within our Benedictine foundation. This will be celebrated online and in two parts. First a recorded Service at 10.00 am and then a community meeting on Zoom with the Bishop of Winchester for us to receive his annual Charge. Members of the community roll will have received an invitation. I do hope that you will join with me and Chapter in this annual commitment.
Please continue to take care of yourselves and others.
The Prayer of St Benedict
Gracious and Holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you, intelligence to understand you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate upon you
and a life to proclaim you,
through the power of the Spirit
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St Benedict c. 480–547