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Lent, Holy Week and Easter
The service descriptions below draw some of the highlights of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. For a full schedule of services and music, please see the Fortnightly Service Schedule.
For details of services, visit What's On and select the category Special Services from the drop-down menu.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the day on which it is traditional for ‘ashing’ to take place – a sign of the humility and repentance that is characteristic of the season. ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ,’ says the minister, tracing the sign of the cross with ash on each person’s forehead.
1.10pm Holy Communion (said) with imposition of ashes
5.30pm Sung Eucharist (Book of Common Prayer) with imposition of ashes.
Holy week is the most solemn of all the weeks in the Church’s Calendar, and traces the last days of Jesus’ life, leading up to his death and burial. Many of the special services for this are week can be described as ‘representational’, in that the events of Jesus' life are not only recalled by liturgical action, but also portrayed in a more literal sense, as they are acted out.
10.30am Sung Eucharist
The Sung Eucharist on Palm Sunday is a processional service and, if the weather is fine, the congregation gathers outside in Cathedral Gardens, by Chetham’s School of Music, for the beginning of the service and the blessing of new palm crosses. The choir leads the singing in procession to the Cathedral, and the service continues inside, including the entire presentation of the passion gospel – the account of Jesus' arrest, trial and execution, that foreshadows the remainder of the week’s liturgical activity.
5.30pm A service of Readings and Music
with the Cathedral Voluntary Choir
This reflective service of readings, hymns, prayers and anthems explores some of the events that took place during the last days of Jesus’ life, and our response to Jesus’ passion.
Monday in Holy Week
The Bishop gathers his clergy and licensed ministers to the Cathedral Church during Holy Week every year, to renew their ministerial promises, and for the blessing of the three different oils that are subsequently taken out into the diocese to be used in the ministry of baptism, confirmation, ordination and healing. Many dioceses hold this service on Maundy Thursday, but in the Manchester diocese it takes place on Monday in Holy Week, since the previous Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, was the Lord High Almoner, and accompanied the Queen each year to the annual Royal Maundy Service on the Thursday.
The service is not only for ministers, however, and there are always many in the congregation who have come to support their parish clergy. All are welcome to attend.
10.30am Sung Eucharist with Blessing of Oils and Renewal of Vows
5.30pm Sung Eucharist with Stripping of the Sanctuary
Maundy Thursday draws its name from the commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples to love one another (the Latin mandatum meaning ‘commandment’). As we make a liturgical representation of the events of the day before Jesus’ death, the Sung Eucharist contains foot-washing (from St John’s Gospel), and participation in the meal which – according to the synoptic Gospels – Jesus instituted on the night before he died. As the mood darkens with the deepening anticipation of Good Friday, the music becomes more sombre; the remaining furnishings and ornaments are removed from the Quire and Sanctuary; the ministers and choir divest.
In Mark’s Gospel, after the meal, Jesus and his disciples ‘sang the hymn [and] they went out to the Mount of Olives.’ (Mark 14.26.) And so we, too, move to a specially created, candle-lit garden of Gethsemane – the Garden of the Watch, where the service concludes. The normal order and dignity of a cathedral recession is inappropriate; everyone disperses in disarray into the silence of the night. For those who wish to stay awhile to pray in the garden, the Cathedral remains open until 9.00pm.
12 noon The Way of the Cross
The precise shape and form of the midday Good Friday Service varies from year to year, but it always follows the steps of Jesus through his betrayal, arrest, trial and torture, his path to Golgotha and his death on the Cross. Challenging readings, evocative choral music and moving liturgy are woven into a service that often includes art, poetry, movement, symbol and action, as we worship the one who gave up his life for us, who suffered the abandonment of the cross, and was laid in a stone cold tomb.
7.30pm Sequence of Music and readings for Good Friday
On the evening of Good Friday, the Cathedral Choir leads a meditative hour of music, which also includes poetry, prose and prayer for this holy day.
There is no communion service on Good Friday or on Saturday in Holy Week.
Easter is the most important festival of the Christian faith – the day on which we celebrate the raising of Jesus from the dead, with all of the associated joy, hope and confidence.
The Easter season spans 50 days, from Easter Day itself, through to the Day of Pentecost.
7.30pm Liturgy for Easter Eve with Baptism and Confirmation
There is a long tradition of watching and waiting in expectation of the risen Christ on Easter Day – a prayerful vigil of readings, prayers and reflective silence, that take us through the story of God’s salvation history. Two historical patterns have emerged: some churches hold their vigil on the morn of Easter Day itself, watching in the darkness before dawn, whilst others do this on the night before.
In Manchester Cathedral this Easter liturgy takes place on Easter Eve, in a glorious celebration, led by the Bishop of the Diocese. The vigil is followed by the lighting of a new fire and the Paschal candle, the light from which is spread throughout the building, as hundreds of congregational candles are lit.
During the Easter Liturgy the Bishop baptises and confirms dozens of candidates from all around the diocese. The invitation to bring candidates is extended to all diocesan clergy, who should contact the Canon Precentor as early as possible, if they would like to do. This service is very popular, so the number of candidates is restricted to 80, in order to accommodate families and supporters within the Cathedral.
This is a service that will live in memories of the candidates for the rest of their lives.
The Cathedral’s usual Sunday pattern is embellished by outstanding music and liturgy on this joyful day.
9.00am Holy Communion (Book of Common Prayer) with hymns
10.30am Sung Eucharist with the Bishop of Manchester (Incense is used)
5.30pm Festal Evensong with Procession to the Easter Garden (Incense is used)
For 40 days after Jesus' resurrection, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people, continuing to teach and work miracles, and preparing his disciples for his departure and for the coming of the Holy Spirit. On Ascension Day (which always falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter Day) we especially recall the ascension of Jesus into heaven. According to Matthew’s Gospel, just before he was taken, Jesus instructed his disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28.19), and Luke records that Jesus also instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, when they would be ‘clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24.49). For this, latter, reason, the days between Ascension Day and Pentecost have a focus on prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church.
The ascension of Jesus has many important implications, which include Jesus having taken his rightful place at the side of God the Father, in power and glory, as ruler and judge; he now lives and reigns eternally, for death has no more dominion over him. In that place Jesus continues his ministry of prayer for his people and ever lives to intercede for us, and from that place comes the Holy Spirit.
5.30pm Sung Eucharist on Ascension Day (Incense is used)
Although Jesus’ departure at his ascension left the disciples bereft once again for a short while, the Holy Spirit was soon sent in his stead, appearing first at a gathering of disciples as a rushing wind and tongues of fire, producing renewed confidence and vigour, amongst the disciples, and an ability to speak of God’s amazing deeds in a huge range of different languages. Amongst other things, the Holy Spirit is the source, life and breath of our faith, and is the very indwelling of God within God’s people. With the enabling gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is equipped for the loving acts of worship, mission and service to which she is called.
Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter Day, and services follow the usual Sunday pattern, with additional festive features.
9.00am Holy Communion (Book of Common Prayer) with hymns
10.30am Sung Eucharist (Incense is used)
5.30pm Festal Evensong with Procession (Incense is used)