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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz (created in Canva), all rights reserved.
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We’re almost at the end of Holy Week. Today is a Friday that feels like a Sunday (because I’ve been to church) and then tomorrow will feel like a weird day all day long, and then I’ll go to Easter Vigil Mass and wind up feeling like I’m supposed to be somewhere on Sunday, even though I have nowhere to go.
But I’ve learned a few things, this Holy Week. The pared-down version of the Holy Week Masses and services has meant that we carry less; we sing less; we pay attention more; we notice more. Most of the time, the pared-down version has been a good thing.
On Palm Sunday the blessed palms were available at the end of Mass as we left the church. There were no palms to hold during the entrance procession, but since we were using the simple entrance without the Gospel reading about the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we didn’t need palms. This meant that we didn’t have palms to fiddle with, drop, or braid into crosses.
We also didn’t have hymnals (which, in our parish, contain the missal). Those are all locked away in the parish library, except a few in the choir area for the musician and cantor to use. On Palm Sunday when the Passion was read, no one had the readings available to proclaim the crowd parts. The lector read those along with the “any speaker except Jesus” parts. And that turned out to feel really odd. When the Passion is proclaimed at Mass and the assembly participates in a way that’s only done two days per year, saying the words “Crucify Him!” really brings home the message of our own participation in the burden of sin that Jesus died to take away.
It turned out to be a gift that I didn’t sing this year on Holy Thursday. We musicians have to pay attention in a focused sort of way, because we’re listening for cues (and sometimes on the special days the cues are very different from ordinary Sunday cues). But I was sitting with the assembly and I had the chance to just listen and not worry about being ready to start the next acclamation on time, because the musicians would cue me. And in all my years of attending the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I never noticed this:
On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today,
That sacrifice was happening right then and right there. Not only in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Right here in New Jersey on Holy Thursday night in 2021. I’m not expressing this well. I don’t know how to express this well. But I think it means that the sacrifice was made once by Jesus but we are reliving it, and now I will need to go read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1365-1369) and ponder that.
This Holy Thursday, the ritual of the washing of the feet was omitted. Of course, we heard about it in the Gospel, but the actual washing of feet did not happen. For me, that was a good thing because if I’m a musician I’m busy the whole time and if I’m not a musician I’m distracted by either the music (for good or for ill) or by my own thoughts about how I’d never want my feet washed because who would want to look at my awful feet?
In a way, it’s hard to strip much from Good Friday, because it’s already as stripped down as a liturgy can get. By this point in Holy Week I think the simplicity of it all had finally settled in for me. I didn’t spend the silent entrance procession sulking about the missed opportunity for a hymn. I was ready for the silence, and my soul was happy for it.
It seemed like a lot of people thought the same as I did about Palm Sunday, because when the Gospel was proclaimed for Good Friday, out came the smartphones and the missals and Magnificats that people had brought in with them. It wasn’t everybody, but it was enough that when the crowd had something to say, we could hear a good number of voices saying it.
Finally, on Good Friday this year we did not have individual veneration of the cross. Our deacon-in-training carried the cross from the back of church to the altar, proclaiming three times, “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore.” Then our pastor asked everyone to stand and silently adore from our places. Again, this is a situation where I’m usually busy providing music while everyone in church stands up, lines up, venerates the cross, and returns to seats. It takes longer than Communion and it’s important to end the music the second the last person has been seated, so it’s a little stressful. And the musicians never get to venerate the cross. This time, we all just stood in our places. You could hear a pin drop in that church. It was powerful.
Holy Week 2021 has turned out to be very different from Holy Week 2019, our last normal Holy Week. It’s also turned out to be a million times better than Holy Week 2020.
Tomorrow night is the Easter Vigil, and we will make a joyful noise, in praise of the Resurrection and our return to Mass and seeing Mass attendance numbers creep up, little by little each week. We won’t have an Easter Fire, and that’s sad. But after Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday, I know that, whatever’s missing, there will be a lesson for me in it.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
I have a song stuck in my head. And it’s glorious.
It’s been quite a while since that’s happened. Actually, I think it’s been a year.
The weekend of March 21/22 last year was the first weekend our parish was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a solid three months before public Masses resumed. We still can’t sing in groups here or invite the assembly to sing. The hymnals are still stacked on tables in the parish library, which is still closed to the public.
Music at Mass for the past nine months has basically been walking music: hymns for the entrance procession, preparation of the gifts, Communion, and recessional. And we sing the Gospel acclamation. We have a cantor and accompanist, and we’re singing behind plexiglass shields, far away from each other and anyone else.
We haven’t been singing the Responsorial Psalms. The lector simply reads those.
But starting at this year’s Easter Vigil, we’ll be singing the psalms again.
Psalms are a challenge for the cantor, because they’re a whole new song you basically sing as a solo (so you have to get it right, since there’s no one to cover your mistakes), and sometimes you won’t sing that particular one again for another three years. They’re not like a new hymn you’ll sing several times within a liturgical season and get to know quite well.
For some weird reason known only to the music director, whenever I’m one of the singers at the Easter Vigil, I’m assigned the Exodus 15 psalm: “Let us sing to the Lord; He has covered Himself in glory.” A couple of years ago we got the Spirit & Psalm arrangements for the psalms and learned those; they’re more guitar-friendly than Respond & Acclaim. Since we don’t have enough organists or pianists to cover all the Masses at our parish, that option is a welcome one.
Some psalms are more difficult to learn and sing than others. Sometimes there are a lot of syllables stuffed into a short musical space. That’s what happens in verse 4 of that psalm for the Easter Vigil:
You brought in the people you redeemed and planted them on the mountain of your inheritance the place where you made your seat, O LORD, the sanctuary, LORD, which your hands established. The LORD shall reign forever and ever.
Five lines, but only four musical phrases. That “mountain of your inheritance” seems pretty insurmountable when you’re tripping over the syllables. And the Easter Vigil is less than two weeks away.
On Saturday I had a rare opportunity to be alone in the house, so I grabbed my copy of the psalm and headed for my little keyboard, where I belted out the refrain and stumbled over the verses a few times, worrying because the Easter Vigil is less than two weeks away and I don’t want to mess this up.
I practiced it so much that, while I still don’t have it right, I do have it stuck in my head.
Sunday morning when I prayed Liturgy of the Hours, as soon as one of the psalms contained a word or phrase that’s also in the Exodus 15 responsorial, my brain immediately switched to Easter Vigil mode.
I had to keep dragging myself back to the right words.
As I prepared and ate my breakfast, Exodus 15 was running through my mind.
But I’m not irritated about it. I’m grateful.
My last Easter Vigil was two years ago. We had many musicians and singers, all there to make a joyful noise. We had a Baptism that year, so we did all the readings and all the psalms. We made so much joyful noise that our voices were tired before the Communion hymn. And most of us showed up the next day to do it all again.
It was good.
Last Easter our parish had livestream issues (the technology was still new and frequently hiccupped) so we didn’t even get to see the whole Mass; we finally were able to view the stream from a neighboring parish.
And here we are, a year later, slowly adding back music to Masses where we can’t invite the assembly to sing with us — because they have no hymnals (who knows when the bishop will let us bring those back?).
People wave at us on their way out as we seize the opportunity to sing more than one verse of something, flashing a thumbs-up since we can’t see them smiling behind their masks. Some have stopped us in the parking lot to thank us for providing even the little bit of music we have, because “it makes things feel normal.”
All that to say: it’s been a long time since I’ve had a psalm stuck in my head because I’m learning it for Sunday.
Easter is coming. Easter music is coming. More music is coming.
And there will be great rejoicing.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz Photos copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved. Main image created in Stencil Pro.
During these last four weeks, several people I know have noted, “This Lent is like one long Holy Saturday.”
In some ways, yes. It’s like we’re in suspended time. My teenager is having trouble keeping track of what day it is. I am, too. There’s not much to distinguish one day from another.
As of today, it’s been exactly four weeks since I’ve received the Eucharist. We attend the livestreamed Mass at our parish and are grateful to have that opportunity, but for me it only serves to increase my hunger for the sacraments.
Normally on Holy Saturday, we’re all focused on tomorrow. On any other Holy Saturday, I’d be putting together Easter treats for my kids (and for the one who lives two time zones away, I’d already have mailed something). I’d be ironing dress shirts and making sure I had every last ingredient I needed for a festive dinner with a special dessert (and maybe even appetizers if I was feeling extra ambitious). I’d be reviewing three or four responsorial psalms in advance of the Easter Vigil and double-checking my music binder to make sure everything for tonight and tomorrow was inside and in the right place.
This year, if I’m able to get potatoes, I’m thinking our festive Easter dinner (and all-day Easter project after online Mass) will be homemade pierogi.
This year, the tomorrow we’re focused on is the day we will be released from our own socially isolated “tombs” — the day we can once again leave our homes, visit with family and friends, be present at Mass.
For Jesus, that day was Easter. For us, it will be later.
But for today, let’s focus on Jesus’ tomorrow. Let’s focus on the Resurrection and the hope it signifies.
It’s Easter vacation, so everybody’s home (including Hubs) and I am trying very hard to just go with the flow here. Sometimes that means I get to be a little bit lazy too. That part is easy. Other times it means I try to say “yes” to those last-minute schedule changes that everyone else in the house come up with. My first response is still usually “no” but if I have 15 minutes to think about it, I can generally get to “yes.”
Easter Sunday Mass was a wonderful celebration. We had so many people show up for the folk group that we ran out of chairs for everyone in the choir area. That’s the best problem to have! We sang our hearts out. We celebrated. After both the prelude (“Tell It Out”) and the responsorial psalm (“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad”) a little kid somewhere in church yelled, “YAY!” It was sweet, and I think it broke the ice a little bit. Mass was super-crowded, with plenty of kids, and everyone was there in their Easter best and probably feeling a bit stiff. That kid gave everyone a chance to chuckle and relax a little, and there was plenty of smiling and people joining in the singing. And that’s what it’s all about: sing once, pray twice.
After Mass there was plenty of joking among the folk group members that we should hire that child to come to our Mass every Sunday and cheer for us.
I’ve been cooking, which I love to do! Here are the latest recipes I’ve gotten up on the cooking blog:
Alleluia, He is risen! We sang all about it yesterday. And it was wonderful.
Our parish schedules an extra Mass on Easter to accommodate the expected crowds. The rest of the schedule is shuffled a bit so that the larger of the two church buildings has the majority of Masses, which makes sense, because you need to fit more people. Our folk group was playing at the little church at 10 AM. There hasn’t been a 10 AM Mass at the little church in almost 4 years. So I was a little curious about how well-attended it would be. Would people forget? After all, my husband would have headed over to the big church if I hadn’t reminded him that we were singing at the little church. He’d have found a Mass there too, because both churches had a 10:00–but he wouldn’t have found us.
It was a full house–and more–in the choir area, because it was a full house–and more–in the church. My husband and mother-in-law couldn’t get seats in the pews, so they sat with us. So did Big Brother, who didn’t have a guitar at home to play (and regretted that, at the last minute). Middle Sister was serving, of course. The folk group showed up in force, except for one member who was visiting faraway family. Best problem in the world to have: not enough seating for all the musicians and singers. Fortunately, our church has these great “window seats” in the choir area. At least 10 people had to use them; all 15 chairs were taken.
And we made our joyful noise. It feels SO GOOD to lift your voice in “Alleluia” and “Glory to God” after all this time. This group has a long tradition of singing “All Good Gifts” on Easter (the Godspell version) and though you might think of it as better suited to Thanksgiving, it works for Easter so well: Easter Mass is all about celebrating, and thanking God, for the enormous and extravagant gift of love, shown through Jesus and His sacrifice.
Even better, we were permitted to sing our very favorite piece: the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a hallmark of our group, but one that we were asked to stop singing when the parishes merged. A couple of times during Lent, the pastor (who asked us not to sing it anymore) allowed us to sing it. People love it. It’s right up there with “Amazing Grace” in the Raise the Roof and Sing Along Factor. And our associate pastor loves it, because it eliminates the whole “barrel through the Lord’s Prayer” thing that is his personal pet peeve.
Our associate pastor has been stationed here for more than 7 years, and I think I’ve seen him actually sing maybe twice in all that time. Yesterday, he sang along with the Lord’s Prayer too.
When we finish the Lord’s Prayer, we all get the same feeling: we have Been To Church. We have PRAISED.
I got a big basket full of chocolate and sugar for Easter, but the music was definitely a better gift, because it helps me remember the greatest gift.
Because when you’ve been up since 4 AM (for no good reason whatsoever), random is as good as it gets.
I haven’t slept past 5:15 in a week. Anxious much? Why yes, yes I am. I’ll know tomorrow when my surgery is scheduled. It’ll be either the 16 or the 23, the doctor thinks. If I don’t start getting some sleep soon, I’ll be pushing for the 16th, just so I can get some rest faster!
I put together the Easter baskets last night, and delegated the Hiding of the Eggs. There was a little obsessive checking this morning to make sure that the eggs had, indeed, been hidden.
Big Brother and Middle Sister were both awake when I went to bed last night. I’m pretty sure they didn’t inspect the Easter baskets, because Big Brother’s basket still contains eggs filled with candy (I checked that too.) Middle Sister gets annoyed that her brother doesn’t want to hunt for eggs anymore, and last year she emptied his basket and hid all the eggs before he woke up. We were still finding them early this year (M&Ms. Still good. Finders keepers.)
I took Little Brother to the outdoor portion of the Easter Vigil last night. In our parish, the Boy Scouts are in charge of the Easter fire. Who better to ask? They know how to build fires, and they know how to “leave no trace” later. Plus, they’re happy to stick around when everyone else has processed into church, and tend that fire until it’s out.
Is that an awesome Easter bonfire or what? People were a lot closer when they first gathered around, but they stepped back pretty quickly. It was a windy night.
Once everyone was in church, the Scouts brought out the marshmallows and the campfire-pie maker. Last night’s flavor of choice: apple. The Scout families and a few friends enjoyed Holy S’mores, featuring imported German chocolate with chili and hazelnuts along with marshmallows toasted over the Easter fire. Not only do our Boy Scouts know how to make a fire, they know how to cook.
I always encourage parents of little children to bring them for the “Easter fire” part. But this year it was a little disappointing. It felt like the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the Easter Fire. I don’t know if it was the new translation (I doubt that) or what, but there was no assembly of the Easter candle with the little pegs representing the wounds of Christ and the inscription of the year. That’s a fascinating thing for kids (and grownups) to see. Kids can see the candle being assembled. Then in church they can go look at it more closely after Mass. It’s something they’ll see all year. Last night, though, there were no little pegs on the candle and the outdoor portion was over in 5 minutes. It took longer for everyone in the assembly to get their candles lighted and get inside.
We’re playing at the 10:00 Mass this year. That’ll throw my whole day off…I’ll get home and think it’s 1:30. Some people in our folk group are not “morning people” so this could get interesting.
And if my surgery is next Monday, this will be the last Mass I play for a while. I won’t be able to hold a guitar for a few weeks, and the day before surgery I’ll be stuck in the house on a clear liquid diet, so I’ll have to hit the 8:00 Mass. So in a way, I’m hoping for the 23rd so I can play one more week before my little hiatus. I can’t help it; I’m just crazy like that. Playing guitar in church–that’s what I do. It’s a huge part of me. It’s a huge part of how I pray.
So today, I am going to relish every song, every “Alleluia,” every chance to lift my voice and glorify God. Even when the songs and settings are not my favorite ones (and many, today, are not); even when the politically-correct lyric revision distracts (and it will); even when we no longer can sing “The Happy Gloria” because, to our knowledge, it hasn’t yet been revised to match the New Translation; even with all of that, it’s a privilege and a joy and a gift to do what I do, with the talented musicians and singers in our folk group who have become my close friends over the years.
He is risen! Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia!
This photo was taken two years ago on Easter at our little church. It was traditional that the empty tomb would be displayed near the tabernacle and baptismal font. I’m glad I took that picture because that was the last year the tomb was displayed.
The empty tomb was a wonderful place to take children after Mass and show them that Jesus is, indeed, risen–the tomb is empty. I miss the visual reminder that would stay up throughout the Easter season. So, this is my place to post that reminder.
I’m off to get ready for Mass, where we will joyously sing the “Glory to God” and many, many “alleluias.”