Easter 2021 – a day to be grateful

Easter 2021 – a day to be grateful Christ Before the High Priest by Gerrard van Honthurst.

Easter Sunday this year falls on my 77th birthday, so I’ll be marking it with gratitude for the gift of my life. To be honest, my poor Ma wasn’t exactly thrilled when she found herself with a fourth pregnancy in her forties when her other children were born a good decade before that. But she adored me, and was embarrassingly proud of anything I did – even the bold bits – and I thank heaven I’ve made it through to my late seventies.


Old? What do I care? I’ve earned every wrinkle and every grey hair – even if the grey is now dyed purple!

I like being old. I like the way that eccentricities considered weird in a younger person are tolerated in the old. I like not being in any competition to be smart, pretty, or even alluring: take me as I am, folks! I like being able to look back on life and understand the past so much better than, perhaps, I understand the present.

Truly, as the Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “life can only be understood backwards” – though it has to be lived forwards.

I don’t like everything I see in the past, and that includes my own personal past. I sometimes think of the poet John Betjeman’s definition of Hell: being turned on a spit while the most shaming moments of your life are played over and over again on a visual loop.


But old age gives you the perspective of understanding the past, and how actions and consequences are interwoven – in society as well as in a personal narrative.

And I view my Irish Catholic upbringing with understanding and gratitude. Yes, there were shortcomings and human failings in that world, but there was goodness, altruism, beauty and generosity too. Yes, we rebelled against its strictures and disciplines in youth – that’s what youth does – but time often brings a different perspective.

Social changes are correctives. Too much repression calls for a freeing of the human spirit: but too much licence reminds us of the need for boundaries.

Yes, Easter 2021 is an occasion for thankfulness – and joy!


A BBC poll asked people what they most missed during lockdown, aside from family and friends, and top of the list came – choirs and choral singing. I can identify with that: online Mass, although we’re glad to have it, has seemed so very austere all this time without any music. Even with churches opening in the North (and Britain), I think it will be a while before we get back to the pleasure and uplift of music in church.

As it happens, my singing teacher advised me to go on YouTube regularly and sing along with chosen music, as it’s healthy for the lungs and the heart. So over the past week I’ve heard (and watched) religious music via the terrific YouTube facility.

I’ve listened to a beautiful Salve Regina, sung by the Canto Católico, uniting 450 voices from 33 countries. I’ve tuned into an Anglican hymn that my husband liked very much Dear Lord and Father of Mankind (Forgive Our Foolish Ways) feelingly performed by Katherine Jenkins with a choir at St David’s Cathedral in Wales.

I’ve watched Luciano Pavarotti sing Schubert’s Ave Maria in two versions – one in the presence of Pope John Paul II in 1979. And there’s a gorgeous video of The Irish Blessing available, in which singers from 300 churches from all over Ireland perform (with a little bit of dancing) the blessing based on St Patrick’s Breastplate. Accompanied by a range of instruments, and stunning shots of the Irish countryside and seascape.

I was rather charmed, too, by former President Barack Obama rendering a hesitant version of Amazing Grace. He’s almost as mediocre a singer as myself, so I felt well encouraged to karaoke with him!

The deafening silence of God

The sacred painting I’ve chosen for Holy Week is Gerrard van Honthurst’s Christ Before the High Priest, from about 1617. It had a profound impact on me when I first saw it at London’s National Gallery, where it hangs. It so perfectly illustrates, and illuminates, the passage in Matthew’s Gospel (26:63) where Jesus is accused by false witnesses, and the high priest addresses him: “Have you no answer to make?” But “Jesus was silent.” The painter has given such a depth of expression to Our Lord’s face – acceptance, wisdom and a divine knowledge all intermingled – and skilfully depicted the accusatory body-language of the Sanhedrin. Unforgettable.

Gerard (also called ‘Gerrit’) van Honthurst, who was from Utrecht, trained in Rome, was influenced by Caravaggio and nicknamed Gherardo delle Notte because of the way he used evening light as ‘chiaroscuro’. He also did some wonderful nativity painting bathed in a night-time light, and other scenes from the New Testament, as well as many paintings of musicians.