John Arnold: Little did we think we'd have so many, many quiet and reflective days in this Easter season of 2020

John Arnold reflects on Palm Sunday... the start of Holy Week
John Arnold: Little did we think we'd have so many, many quiet and reflective days in this Easter season of 2020
Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window of his studio overlooking an empty St. Peter's Square due to restrictions to contain the Covid-19 virus, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 29, 2020. Picture: Vatican News via AP

ON this Sunday morning, Palm Sunday, as I was carrying two buckets of milk down from the Milking Parlour to the calf pens a hymn came into my mind. Normally on this day we would walk in procession from the Parish Hall to the Church singing 'Hail Redeemer King Divine'. Ah yes this is a Palm Sunday like no other, just as St Patrick's Day was so different from everything we've had in the past. 

Today was traditionally the Sunday of 'the long Mass' but really no one minded. The start of Holy Week with the ceremonies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday. I always thought it was a lovely week, yes a bit solemn and quiet but then a few slower, more sombre days never did us any harm. Little did we think we'd have so many, many quiet and reflective days in this Easter season of 2020! 

We would process down from the Hall and then turn in the small gate or down to the steps and in the big gate. Those that had no palm coming to Mass would have ample branches supplied. I recall Julia Shine and Bridie Mannix, Tom and Maryanne and in recent years Liz would have sprigs of palm on a table - that palm would later be burned and the ashes kept to anoint our foreheads on the next Ash Wednesday. Though the Mass would be long the chats would still take place outside the Chapel gates. It might be farming or the weather or a match won or lost or a local horse running at a point to point meeting. 

Yes and even when I was growing up we could get the messages above at Wood's shop -later Mrs Dooleys and if the day was fine they'd be still a few lingering and chatting, backs against the wall, maybe twenty minutes after the Mass had finished. 

Even if today was an ordinary Palm Sunday we'd have been lucky to get away with the procession. All night the wind rose and early this morning you could smell the rain in the breeze, on it's way. If we were talking today some of us would probably say ' Shure a day's rain'll be no harm'. 'Aye 'twas very hard all week -no growth', 'And 'tis to get warm later in the week, yes we need a sop of rain to get things going'

So we got the rain today as if to say 'Stay at home and stay inside'- indeed the very heavens are repeating the message that we've all been hearing with weeks now. No walking, no cycling today and truly it's eerie but what can we do but what we're told and a prayer or two never goes astray. 

This Covid 19 thing is so strange -we cant see it or smell it or hear it or sense it, yet it is enveloping our world .We feel so helpless at this time. Normally experts and learned people can weigh up most situations and predict with near accuracy what the eventual outcome will be. Not now, no one knows for sure and certain. Will our world be changed forever, will the things we took for granted like travel and sport and socialising be curtailed?

We had the jobs finished early enough as the rain began to cascade down and the sky came low. Before I returned to the house for a bite and a sup I made the short journey I make every Palm Sunday morning. I went around the corner of the house and down to the line of tall cypress trees that stand at the bottom of the garden. There in the shade I picked a big sprig of box palm. I broke off a few little branches and went up the boreen to give them in to the house above- the next generation.  Keeping the words of Nanci Griffith's Song, ' From A distance', to the fore I delivered the little green boughs. I pulled the jacket tighter around me as I walked back home. In the 'old' garden I could see the daffodils proudly flaunting their natural beauty and paraphrasing Wordsworth;

The grasses beside them danced; but they 

Out-did the green blades in glee:

A poet could not but be gay, 

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought 

What wealth the show to me had brought:

And so on this wet and windy, cold and grey Palm Sunday the only certainty is that in an hour the cows must be milked and the calves must be fed. Say safe and mind one another;

Palm Sunday In Bartlemy.

The sky is clear o'er Rathaneague, from Hightown the birds are flying 

As we gather to celebrate the week when our God was dying 

Into Jerusalem he went on a donkey as the crowds waved palm 

Now we are walking to the church on this morn so calm 

These green boughs when burnt will soon turn to ashes 

To remind us all of frailty as through the world each passes 

On Sunday they were praising him, by Sunday he was dead 

Even Peter denied him, 'I don't know him' thrice he said 

Life, death, resurrection, by now a well known story 

All part of the eternal plan on the path to lasting glory.

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