Why thanking our priests has become a Holy Week tradition

The author with Patti Fordyce outside Westminster Cathedral today (© Westminster Cathedral)

If you are a London priest – in either Westminster or Southwark – you will see us at the Chrism Mass as you walk in procession to the Cathedral. We will be there with our placard and our thank-you cards, and in recent years have come to be regarded by many of the clergy as a standard part of the proceedings.

“Thank you to our priests” says the placard, and we hand out small holy pictures with a thank-you message from Catholic women.

It began in Southwark some years ago, the independent initiative of a small group of us including Mac – a teacher – and myself. We were distressed by seeing at St George’s Cathedral a group of people calling for women’s ordination. On the one day in the year when priests gather to affirm their consecrated service to the Church, and receive the sacred oils which are central to their ministry, it seemed just so wrong that they were subjected to any form of campaigning.

But rather than set up a rival group, it was decided simply to take this opportunity to say “thank you”. The first placard was hand-made, large and enthusiastic but perhaps less than elegant: we held it aloft with enthusiasm and were touched by the response of the clergy, who accepted our small holy cards with gratitude and seemed genuinely appreciative of the gesture.

A couple of years later the Association of Catholic Women (ACW) took up the project, this time at Westminster, and on arrival in the Cathedral piazza were delighted to be joined by a young team from St Patrick’s, Soho, who had brought along their own home-made placard to show support.

We now have a splendid professionally made placard used at both Cathedrals – the gift of a young ACW member, who with a job and small children was unable to join us but wanted to help.  Every year the ACW designs and prints the small thank-you cards, choosing a suitable Scriptural quotation, prayer,  or religious image. In 2014 we marked the canonisation of St John Paul with extracts from his teaching on the Eucharist.

Others years have seen prayers from the Ordination ceremony, or the Chrism Mass, and designs have ranged from pictures of Our Lady to Eucharistic themes. No one ever says “No thanks” or snubs us… the only criticism has been a light-hearted  “Hey, what about us?” from deacons who wondered if they might merit a placard too…

Every year the Chrism Mass is always well-attended, not to say packed, and as the faithful make their way in we get a lot of support and encouragement along the lines of “Good for you!” and “Yes, I’m with you!”.  When the procession ends we make our way in, glad to squeeze in at the back, and are suddenly swept up into the music and the prayers.

In fact, until this thank-you idea emerged, it had never occurred to me to attend the Chrism Mass and I found it a revelation. The prayers are beautiful, invoking Genesis and the olive branch brought back by the dove as the Flood receded… Listening to it all there is a sense of the unity of the Old and New Testaments, and the continuity of things, the very essence of Holy Week.

The only daft bit is travelling home on the bus with that placard. “How much do they pay you to carry that?” laughed a bus driver one year. All done for free, we assured him: the message is ours and we mean it.