The Paschal candle which now burns proudly each day at Mass in our little chapel at 4 First Turn was blessed not at Wolvercote but in the Adriatic Restaurant on board the P&O cruise liner Oceana during my recent cruise chaplaincy. I must confess to having had mixed feelings about the experience before I boarded the ship yet from the moment I arrived in Southampton on Monday of Holy Week I felt totally relaxed and at home. The challenges involved in adapting the Holy Week and Easter liturgies for celebration in the ship’s card room and one of her restaurants were easily overcome not least because of the enthusiastic cooperation and support of passengers and crew alike. The only thing that was not possible was the lighting of the Easter fire (for rather obvious reasons!). All the other ceremonies which we associate with this beautifully moving and inspiring time in the Church’s Year were celebrated with the same faith and devotion as would be the case in an ordinary Catholic parish church.
Of course the Easter Vigil was the climax of our celebrations with a mixed congregation of both passengers and crew numbering 120. It was followed by a wonderful (and totally unexpected) party, centre-stage of which was a large chocolate Easter cake produced by the catering staff in the galley! And all this happened not at the usual time just as it is getting dark. The commitments of the crew meant that none of the liturgies in which they were involved were able to begin before 11.30pm! It was 2.00am before I finally returned to my cabin after the Easter Vigil and by then the ship was rolling in heavy seas on her way from Barcelona to Marseille. Yet I can hardly remember another occasion when my heart has been so filled with Easter joy. In particular the faith and devotion of the young men and women (mostly Indian and Filipino) who cooked for us, served us, cleaned for us and attended to our every conceivable need and who then at the end of a long and tiring day found the time and energy to accompany their Lord in faith along His Via Dolorosa to His Cross and finally to the Garden of the Resurrection was truly amazing! In the days that remained for us on board Oceana many people stopped me to say how moving the Easter Vigil had been for them and how uplifted they had felt that night. So now each time I light the Paschal candle at Mass I am reminded of this unforgettable experience and of the precious friendships I made during my 10 days as a cruise chaplain all rooted in the Easter faith we share together wherever we come from and wherever we find ourselves in the world.
One morning as I was setting up for Mass on board ship a man came into the card room and engaged me in conversation. He was curious to know how I had managed to escape from my parish at such an important time in the Church’s Year. When I told him that I no longer had a parish but now served as the Director of the St Barnabas Society he said: “I know it well…and I support you financially!” It made me realise what small places the Church and the world are and also how dependent charities like ourselves are upon the material and prayerful support of so many people we hardly know and yet who have been touched in some way by the work we do and moved to do something to ensure that it continues. When I celebrate Mass this week for our Beneficiaries and Benefactors that man will be at the forefront of my mind along with countless others to whom the Society remains eternally grateful. Whether on land or sea may I wish all our supporters and friends and happy and holy journey through Eastertide.
“The Lord has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia!”