What I’ve Learned (so far) This Holy Week

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,

(iBreviary; emphasis mine)

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.

The Words I Sing

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.

Focused on Tomorrow

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Copyright 2020 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.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Easter Basket Special

Barb Easter Basket Special

Around this time of year, you’ll find articles listing ideas for ways to fill Easter baskets with just about anything but candy. Suggestions usually include play clay, sidewalk chalk, bottles of bubbles, super-bouncy balls, and other small toys. This week I even saw an article showing a basket’s worth of extras and accessories for children with diabetes. As the parent of a teen with diabetes, I do not advise giving anything that resembles medical supplies as a holiday gift.

I have nothing against candy, but I always look for something to tuck into the basket (or gift bag, now that my kids are older) along with the Peeps, jelly beans, and peanut butter eggs. Here are five options: picture books, a chapter book, a fun family activity book, and coloring books for teens and grownups.

Picture Books

when I pray

When I Pray for You by Matthew Paul Turner and illustrated by Kimberley Barnes (WaterBrook) is a picture book with rhyming text that would make a beautiful bedtime story. The book is not specifically Catholic, but it’s all about prayer — specifically, the many, many ways parents pray for their children. The illustration style is really cute and engaging, and the message of the book is wonderful.

Father Ben Gets Ready for Mass

Father Ben gets ready for Mass by Katie Warner and illustrated by Meg Whalen (TAN Books) offers an interactive peek at what priests do before Mass. Children are familiar with their own family’s pre-Mass routines, so this is a valuable perspective on what priests do. As in any picture book, the details matter, and that really shows in this story: on the cover, Father Ben is walking to church with a rosary in his hand. Because this book calls for the reader to make the sound of a church bell and sing “Alleluia,” this might not be the book to bring to church with you — but it’s a great Sunday-morning read if you have time before the flurry of getting dressed and having breakfast.

For Independent Readers

anna goes to a party

Anna Goes to a Party and Learns About the Mass by Gabriele Krämer-Kost and illustrated by Tanja Husmann (Pauline Books & Media) is a chapter book especially appropriate for children preparing for their First Communion. Eight-year-old Anna’s family doesn’t go to church much except on holidays, and she’s nervous about receiving the Sacrament because she doesn’t know what to do. A family celebration provides the occasion for Anna to consult her godmother about Mass and what happens there. The same family party becomes a comparison tool for Anna’s godmother as she explains the various elements of Mass and how they fit into the celebration. Cute, retro-style illustrations remind me of the “Ramona” books I enjoyed as a child. The last section of the book takes the reader step by step through the whole Mass.

Fun for the Whole Family

catholic funny fill ins

Remember “Mad Libs”? Karen and Tommy Tighe’s riff on the road-trip game, Catholic Funny Fill-Ins (Pauline Books & Media), takes an old favorite one better by mixing in a fun fact at the end of each page — and making it part of the game! Woven into the stories are mentions of prayer, saints, sacraments, feast days, and ways to help others. It’s fun and creative, and helps children review the parts of speech. This book and a pencil are all you need to pass the time during travel, in a waiting room, or even in a restaurant while you wait for your meal.

For Tweens, Teens, and Grownups

jesus speaks to you

Coloring-book fans of all ages will enjoy Veruschka Guerra’s Easter-themed Jesus Speaks to You: A Coloring Book for Prayer and Meditation. Scripture quotes accompany each coloring spread, and a section at the back of the book is designed on one side only so the pages can be cut out and framed or given as gifts. The book is made with thick, quality paper so colors won’t bleed through. Guerra’s intricate art is beautiful to look at, even before you color the pages!

staedtler triplus 36

And if you’re giving a coloring book, you can’t miss by adding some coloring pens to go with it! My favorites are the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners. You’ll find them in packs of 6 on up to 50. These pens last a long time, don’t smear, and won’t roll off the table. (You can use them for your bullet journal too!)


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

New from Pauline Kids: Books for Easter Baskets

Do you like to make the Easter basket about more than just the chocolate? Four new books from Pauline Kids will make excellent additions to your child’s Easter basket this year.

Jesus our saviorJesus Our Savior: the story of God’s Son for children by Patricia Szczebak is an adaptation of Bible stories about Jesus. Written for independent readers in second grade and up, it would make a great read-aloud for children as young as age four. Most chapters are about three pages long, so this book is perfectly formatted for bedtime reading with your children, a chapter or two each night. This Bible storybook is faithful to Gospel accounts, adding only a bit of historical detail (such as a simple explanation of leprosy) to help young readers understand the stories better.

our blessed motherOur Blessed Mother: the story of Mary for children by Marilyn Evangelina Monge, FSP, is from the same series as Jesus Our Savior. This book is divided into two parts: The Life of Mary and Mary Leads Us to Jesus, which covers the Marian apparitions at Carmel, Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, and a quick how-to on praying the Rosary. The book begins with a good explanation about how we honor Mary but do not worship her, and also that we get some of the stories of Mary from Tradition.

life of jesus graphic novelThe Life of Jesus is a graphic novel by Ben Alex, illustrated by José Pérez Montero. This book brings the Gospel stories to life in a different way; more and more kids ages 10 and up are very into the graphic-novel format, so this will appeal to them without boiling down the message. The narrative is very action-oriented but does not leave out the numerous occasions in the Bible where Jesus goes off by himself to pray. At the bottom of each page, you’ll find the Scripture reference for the story depicted there. I’d recommend this for tweens, teens, and Confirmandi.

divine mercy in my pocketDivine Mercy in my pocket by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP,  is a small booklet, about 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, that helps kids learn to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In addition to the prayer instruction, the first half of the booklet contains a short biography of Saint Faustina, as well as some information on the meaning of the prayers and how and why we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The rest of the booklet is titled “How Can I Share Mercy with Others?” and discusses the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in language children can understand. Paired with a Rosary, it would make an excellent First Communion gift idea.

Tuck one (or more) of these books into your child’s Easter basket this year — right next to the chocolate bunny.

Pauline Books for Easter Baskets


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Lent and Easter Wisdom from Pope Francis

 

Lent starts tomorrow! Are you ready? No? Join the club. I’m still figuring out my give-ups and add-ons, my physical sacrifices and spiritual practices to put into place.

lent and easter wisdom from pope francisI’ve got a good book to help me stay encouraged and motivated all throughout Lent–and right through Divine Mercy Sunday as well: Lent and Easter Wisdom from Pope Francis by John Cleary.

This book is practical and not at all heavy-duty. There’s no way I could handle a Lent filled with complicated spiritual reading. Pope Francis is down-to-earth; the homilies, encyclicals, letters and addresses quoted here are accessible but still spiritually challenging.

Journal prompts for each day inspire reflection based on the Pope’s quotes, a Scripture passage and a prayer. I’m not the best journal-keeper, probably because journals are so open-ended, but this could work for me.

Each day’s section in the book is 3 pages or less. I like that it doesn’t end on Easter Sunday but instead continues through the whole Octave of Easter, reinforcing the concept that Easter is not just a day!

This is an undated book; sections are divided by the day in the liturgical year, so keep your church calendar handy. The bonus here is that the book isn’t tied only to 2016!

Buy this book through my Amazon link to support Franciscanmom.com!

The fine print: I received a review copy of this book; no other compensation was received and all opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#WorthRevisit: Be Not Afraid

Since it’s the Easter Season and all, I thought I’d reprise a post from an Easter long ago.

Be Not Afraid (originally posted 04/21/2006)

calvin hobbes mandibles of death

I never thought of myself as the “fearful” type. I am a worrier, to be sure. I fret, and stew, and use a lot of time, effort and energy on the “what ifs.” And I’ll freely admit to being afraid of heights, bridges, tunnels, and certain insects, big ones with mandibles of death, as “Calvin and Hobbes” would say. Surely I’m not alone there.

Then the Holy Fool published this piece on fear. He reminded me that

We fear for what we will lose.
And that fear deprives us of joy. It pillages us of peace. It shatters our confidence in life. It erodes our trust in God–our very Faith.

That was a revelation to me: fear is actually a lack of faith. And I’m not talking about bugs here–but all those “what ifs” that I worry over.

Part of the miracle of Easter is that Jesus showed us that we need not fear so much. How many times in Scripture do we see the words, “Be not afraid”–even when those times seem to be times when fear is a natural response? Even Easter, a joyful event, must have inspired fear in the disciples and others. Yet at Easter Christ won the victory for us! As the Psalmist wrote, “Cast your cares upon the Lord, and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22)

Sometimes it’s easier to hang onto the fears, even though they are uncomfortable, because they are familiar, than to let go and let the Lord take over. But that is exactly what we are called to do.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

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Small Success Thursday: Easter Vacation Edition

It’s Thursday! That means it’s time to join up with the rest of the CatholicMoms and celebrate some Small Successes.

Small-Success-Thursday-400pxThis week’s Small Success Thursday linkup at CatholicMom.com is titled “Time Well Wasted.” That’s also the title of an album I enjoy by the Freddy Jones Band. My favorite track is Take the Time. It’s good stuff. Take the time to listen!

And on to the Small Successes:

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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.”

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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.

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I’ve been cooking, which I love to do! Here are the latest recipes I’ve gotten up on the cooking blog:

Beef Fajitas beef fajitas

 

 

Granmas rollsGranma’s Rolls

 

 

Easter ham and cheese bakeEaster Ham & Cheese Bake

 

 

 

Enjoy! And Happy Easter!