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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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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.
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.
Shame on me. Once again I’m letting myself fall victim to my pride, and I’m letting that pride get in the way of the holiest 3 days of the Church year.
In short: there’s only one group of musicians at my parish that is invited to participate in the Triduum, and that’s not the group to which I belong. So instead of acting like a grownup, I pick up my toys and go home and don’t come to the Triduum.
Shame on me. The only one I’m hurting is myself.
I said this last year, but I didn’t follow through:
For the past several years I’ve basically boycotted the Triduum, because it hurts to be there. It hurts to be excluded. So I rant in this space (and to my husband) and commiserate with the rest of the folk group–and nurse my wounded pride.
That needs to stop, and I’m the only one who can stop it. This year, I need to make it my business to be at the Triduum.
Honestly, it is pride that gets in my way here. I rail about the entitlement mentality but I let myself get all caught up in it when it comes to music. We’re there every week, yes. But we’re not owed anything because of that.
This journey, like any journey, will begin with a single step. And I’ve decided to make a plan for that step. I’m starting tonight by refusing to rant at folk group practice about the fact that we’re left out. It’s time to stop licking my wounds and just start praying.
Please pray for me, in your kindness, as I try to get over this.
I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!
There is an image in the Adoration Chapel this week: an artist’s depiction of the Pietá — but unlike Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, this one portrays Mary looking straight ahead as she cradles Jesus in her arms, holding him so that His face is next to hers.
Her eyes are not downcast as she holds her crucified Son. They are wide open, staring back at the beholder, filled with emotion.
But what emotion, exactly?
Defiance? I can imagine that her inner Mama Bear comes into play here. She grasps her Son’s body and looks straight ahead, daring anyone to take Him from her.
Shock? She has just watched her only Son complete his earthly mission, culminating in a death so horrible that no one would wish it on his worst enemy, and she witnessed it all. Is she numb from the shock of it?
Grief? Surely. Those eyes, partially in shadow from the veil that covers her hair, are deep pools of grief and pain. Her heart has, indeed, been pierced.
Strength? No tears are on her face. She is hanging on, not allowing herself to give in to those other emotions, sitting straight and not crumpling to the ground, holding Jesus and not letting go.
She will have to let go soon enough. She will have to allow Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body from her for a hurried burial before the sun goes down.
But not yet. Not at this moment.
For now, she holds on — to her Son, to her composure. She looks straight ahead.
On Thursday, Hubs had his 30-month/30,000-mile checkup at the cancer center.
That’s always a tense time. The doctor he was supposed to see had already rescheduled the appointment once, so we’d spent an extra two weeks wondering whether Hubs still gets to consider himself “healthy.”
The cancer center is an awful place. Don’t get me wrong; they give terrific care. But from the second you pull off that busy Philadelphia street onto the winding, tree-lined driveway, you enter into that world of clenching dread. It’s impossible not to. Every person, every family, in the place is dealing with their own personal hell.
A cancer center on any day of the week presents many, many versions of agony in the garden. On Holy Thursday, that was all I could think about.
As we sat in the waiting room of the imaging center (watching Rachael Ray wave around “chicken cutlets” of the non-edible variety and wondering why she didn’t just stick to cooking on her show) someone called our name. Someone we knew. Someone whose husband has been battling a very aggressive cancer for nearly two years now. Someone whose husband is in great pain.
We moved to stand near them in another part of the waiting area where there was room for his wheelchair. We hugged them, and listened, and all talked about our kids (because that’s what parents do) and waited together until Hubs’ CT scan was done and we had to go downstairs to see his doctor and get the results.
In the next waiting area, more agony. A family sitting together in a corner–husband, wife and adult daughter, chatting quietly in another language while an elderly man sat nearby and struck up a conversation with them. Turns out, they’d gotten good news that day. He shared that his wife wasn’t going to be able to beat this, that she wouldn’t even let him in to see the doctor with her.
And then he rejoiced with them–total strangers–on hearing their good news.
How much grace does it take to be able to do that?
I was practically in tears, in the waiting room, overhearing this.
We finally saw Hubs’ doctor. He got his all-clear for the next six months.
I am grateful. I am relieved.
But it’s hard to celebrate Hubs’ good news when so many of the people we saw there that day would not be receiving a similar prognosis. It’s hard to rejoice when someone we know is in pain.
Father H. mentioned at Mass the other day that we are coming up on the time of the “Easter Fast.” That term was a new one on me. He explained that this fast begins after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening and extends until the beginning of Saturday evening’s Easter Vigil. But it is not the same as our Lenten fast, in which we might give up chocolate or fast food or (gasp!) coffee.
Instead, we fast from the celebration of the Eucharist.
Of course, you only notice this if you go to daily Mass. Today is a weird day. It’s 9 AM, and I’m feeling like I should be somewhere. Normally at 9 AM, I’m at Mass. I will be at Mass tonight, but my morning is a little off-kilter.
That makes me think about what Jesus’ morning must have been like on the very first Holy Thursday. What was he doing? He was preparing to celebrate the Passover meal with his disciples, one of whom would betray him, one of whom would deny him, and many of whom would abandon him. He knew exactly what was going to happen to him, and he was prepared to accept the physical and emotional pain that he would go through.
These Triduum days force us to break out of our routine–even good routines like daily Mass. That’s because these days are anything BUT routine, and the Church wants us to realize that.
Holy Saturday has always seemed like such an odd day to me. There’s plenty for me to do, between baking, cleaning house, and preparing food for the Easter celebration. There’s laundry and ironing so that everyone’s church clothes will look nice and neat. For moms, it’s a very full day indeed–we are focused on tomorrow.
My kids are all at loose ends, however. They are eager for tomorrow’s promise of chocolate, and anticipating their chance to hold candles during the Easter Vigil tonight. But their regular activities just aren’t very fun for them today; they too are focused on tomorrow.
Look back on the first Holy Saturday. No one was looking forward to much on that day. We know that Jesus’ friends had locked themselves up in a room, probably fearing that they would be next in line to die the kind of horrible death that He had just endured. Most likely, the women who had taken the responsibility of burying Jesus were now busy with Passover responsibilities. Surely they were all tired, scared, and grieving the loss of the One they knew to be the Messiah. They had no “tomorrow” to focus on; all they had was a tomb at which to keep their vigil.
There were no Easter feasts for them to prepare. There were no pies, no candy treats. But imagine their joy on Easter morning when they found the empty tomb; when they learned that Jesus was not dead, but had risen!
Our Vigil is very different from theirs. We know that Jesus rose. We have no doubt, no fear, no probability of persecution or martyrdom. We do not have to grieve our Savior. We only have to follow Him.
Hands down it is the Easter Vigil. Catholic Culture has a short definition of what this liturgy includes:
The ceremonies of Holy Saturday and the most solemn memorial of the liturgical year. They consist of four parts: Service of the Light, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of Baptism, and Liturgy of the Eucharist. The entire celebration takes place at night, and therefore it should not begin before nightfall and should end before dawn on Easter Sunday. In the early Church the night before Easter was celebrated by the Illumination of the churches and even of whole cities. The revised Easter Vigil services include ceremonies that go back to the first centuries of the Christian era and stress the Church’s joy in commemorating the night that Christ rose from the dead.
Growing up, despite the fact that I attended Mass weekly with my parents, went to Catholic school beginning in sixth grade, and was a church musician starting from the age of 15, I don’t think I even knew the Easter Vigil existed! My family generally attended the Saturday night Mass every week of the year except Easter.
Then I went off to graduate school and, as a way to get involved in something not related to my major in any way (and thus keep what little sanity I had), I got involved with the RCIA team. We had some people joining the church “from scratch”–they hadn’t ever been baptized. Others were already baptized Christians who were converting, or maybe even baptized Catholics who hadn’t completed their sacraments. The culmination of their year or more of preparation is the Easter Vigil, so I was required to attend.
If you’re going to your very first Easter Vigil, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the place to go (click on the Virtual Tour to see why!) This is not a liturgy for wimps. This celebration calls for all the grandeur the Church can bring to it. This is THE celebration of the year!! If you don’t sense the awe and the joy, then something is not being done right.
The phrase “to pull out all the stops” has its origin in the fact that pipe organs have controls for the air flow, that can “stop” the sound. Pulling out a stop means to allow the sound to flow through a particular pipe or set of pipes. Pulling out all the stops means to use EVERY pipe on the organ. This is what happens at the Easter Vigil.
Countless songs, seven readings narrating salvation history from the Old Testament, punctuated by seven psalms, the Exultet (Easter proclamation), incense, flowers, the Easter fire symbolizing the Light of Christ, the construction of the Easter Candle with markers for the wounds of Christ, even the start of the Mass in darkness, with the lights turned on full force just in time for the Alleluia of Easter, and the use of the “Glory to God” which is not spoken or sung during Lent, Baptism of new Catholics and renewal of baptismal promises for all, and finally the joyous celebration of the Eucharist–these are ALL THE STOPS.
Easter Vigil can take hours. I’ve attended one as a RCIA team member, several as a musician, and one as a member of the assembly–where I also plan to be this Easter. This will be the third Easter Vigil our family attends, and the second where I’ve had the privilege of sitting with my family as I am not a part of the choir that is ministering at this Mass.
People say that this one is for the die-hards because of its length, but I think everyone should attend it just once, and in a reverent setting, and with an open mind. The joy will grab you, and you’ll want to come back. And seriously–Jesus gave His LIFE for you. Can’t you give him two or three hours on one Saturday night of the year?
Well, not quite in those terms. But here’s what he published on the cover of this week’s bulletin:
You may be a Catholic who chooses to miss out on the most important Church services of our Catholic Church Year.
This Holy Week.
Don’t be satisfied with just Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday Mass. Plan to participate in these unique and inspiring services.
Consider, for instance, the meaning of the Easter Vigil Service from this excerpt of a homily spoken at the Easter Vigil, 1984. Christ, Son of the Living God! We, Your Church, are here. We who are the Body from Your Body and Blood, here we are, keeping watch. We kept watch on the Holy Night of Christmas. We welcomed the great news that you were born among us with great joy. Today, we are here again, we, Your Church. We wish to be here when the Sacred Liturgy of this night will make your victory over death present among us. We are here, Your Body, Your Church, Your People. We are here on this Holy Night. We are united in the faith born that first Easter Day. This night is holy for us. There are many of us, Your People, keeping watch this night. We are united by one faith, one Baptism, one God, one Father of us all. We rejoice in this Holy Night. It is the same joy our ancestors knew as they kept this same watch. We are united here in our own hope of resurrection which springs from the union of life in which we wish to remain in Jesus Christ Our Lord. Christ, Son of the Living God, accept this vigil from us! Give us the joy of the new life we all bear within ourselves! Only you can give this to the human heart! You, the Risen Christ! You, Our Paschal Lamb! The right hand of the Lord has struck with power, The right hand of the Lord is exalted, I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.