Sunday, March 23, 2008

Triduum & Easter Celebrations: A Recap

The bloggers at my parish have been blogging away about the services for the past week and I've said nothing! It is not, I assure you, because I did not appreciate those services but is, rather, a matter of not having internet at home. So, I thought that I'd recap my holy week and comment a little on the beautiful Masses/services my parish had this week.

Monday of Holy Week: Morning Mass - beautiful I'm sure but I didn't make it!

Tuesday of Holy Week: Mass and Confession with Father S. Simple and beautiful.

Wednesday of Holy Week: Took my grandmother to confession. When we walked in, I realized that Mass was being said. I always kick myself a little for not realizing when extra Masses are said that I can actually attend. Oh well... maybe next year. The lines after Mass for confession were LONG. Thank goodness we had been there for some time and made it in with Father L first!

Later that evening I went back to the church to pray. I didn't end up staying, however, because they were practicing for Mass the next day. Too noisy, too much commotion.

Holy Thursday: I arrived at the church a couple of hours before Mass began. I wanted and needed to prepare my mind and heart for what was going to happen. I'm glad I did. Shortly before the sea of people flooded in the door, I was approached about a situation which, otherwise, would have sent me packing -- and yelling all the way. Yes, I was annoyed. But I also knew that the Lord was celebrating the Passover and would soon be in Gethsemane. I calmed myself down and returned to my pew.

Mass this year was just as beautiful as last year but much different. Last year our St Francis de Sales choir sang for this Mass and the St Thomas Aquinas choir sang for Good Friday. This year it was reversed. We had the Schola along for Holy Thursday Mass which was nice but meant that participation by the congregation was minimal. That was slightly frustrating. I supposed, however, that we should not be offended or frustrated by it but rather encouraged to learn some new music and perhaps step outside of our comfort zone -- which for many is the Haagen/Haas zone, very much unlike sacred chant.

As is always the case, there was an abundance of all things Catholic and this Mass was pleasing to the senses. All of the candles on the altar were lit (love it!), there were priests and deacons galore, seminarians, altar servers, incense... wow! What pleased me more, however, was the homily Father L gave. He spoke of the royal priesthood and our personal calling to be a part of it; to be a people set apart, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. All week he stressed that we are called just as our ancestors were called. He made a point to drive home the fact that what we read in Mass and what we hear in the liturgy is meant for us, today, here, now. On Holy Thursday he spoke of his life of service and then of ours. He urged us to live that life, to serve others always. He said much more than I can write here and far more eloquently than ever I could repeat. However, "The Practicing Catholic" (a fellow parishoner) jotted down some notes on this beautiful homily and has provided them for you to read, if you'd like.

I was pleased also to see this: women carrying the sacred oils to Fr L, who waited for them at the entrance to the sanctuary. As TPC mentioned, the annointing with oils was/is associated with women in the New Testament. I always enjoy seeing women take on traditionally "feminine" roles, especially ones like this. The women did not enter the sanctuary, they simply approached it. They handed over their gifts, were thanked, and returned to their seats. Shortly after was the washing of the feet. I sat in disbelief (but a happy disbelief) as twelve males approached the altar to have their feet tenderly washed by Father. In years past we have seen men, women and children. There were still some tots (the youngest probably no less than five years old) but it filled me with a great sense of peace to see twelve males there. It was not merely that they were male but that the whole scene allowed me a certain amount of reflection that I had not been able to obtain with women. Although I did physically see Father washing the feet of twelve of his "flock", I saw, in spirit, Christ washing the feet of his apostles. That moved me.

The clearing of the altar is always very moving for me but this year it hit me hard. Seeing the santuary so bare just really hit home that Jesus was being taken away. All of the linens were removed, all of the candles too. Nothing remained save for the pews on either side (secured to the floor) and a few chairs of similar style, simple and bare.

How much I longed to move then to the side of the Church where Jesus was. I wanted to be close to him. I wanted to be nearer those candles and that tabernacle. After Mass I remained where I was to pray for a short time. I left for a while but returned about an hour before He would be taken away. When I returned I returned to see only a handful of people waiting there with Jesus. How sad it made me to see so few. Walking into such emptiness (and especially so late in the evening) you cannot help but to remember the garden and the sleeping apostles. Sadly, I fell asleep myself just moments before Father came to take Jesus. I wept a little knowing that I too was weak. I too had fallen asleep. I was awoken by the sound of the door opening and closing. I looked up to see my Jesus being carried away and again I wept. My most beloved Jesus, gone. The tabernacle would remain empty for three days...

Good Friday: I had to work on Friday but made sure I was out of there by 2:30 pm so that I could reflect adequately. And yes, that does mean that I floored it down 75 in a mad dash to my apartment to change before stations at 3pm. Thankfully I made it back to the church with a few moments to spare. I managed to find a seat (it was packed this time!) and went to retrieve a program. Julie ("Happy Catholic"), sweet thing that she is, saw me and went to hand me one. (My guess is they were out of them. Again, the crowd was big for this one!) Instead of getting a program, I got a seat right next to her dear husband. What a treat to participate in stations with such a lovely family. Stations were beautiful (as always) and my heart began to sink. The three o'clock hour. My Lord had died. My Lord, who loves me with an infinite love, was crucified for my sins, to save my soul.

After stations I returned home to clean up. I arrived again a couple of hours prior to the start of the night's service. I meditated on my daily office and on the readings for the day. I walked through the stations again. I really prepared myself. Of course, in my preparations I listened to the choir rehearse. At various points I was moved to tears by the music. (They sang so beautifully and my meditation on the Passion accompanied by the words "O my people, O my church, what more could I have done for you that I have not done? Answer me" left me in fits of tears.)

The Passion service itself was very beautiful. Everything was chanted. EVERYTHING. Talk about melting my heart! And as Julie D mentioned, the young man who chanted the first reading and the responsorial was a real looker with a killer voice. I'm pretty sure every woman in the church, young and old alike, squirmed in her seat a little as he approached the lecturn. He sang the passages with a real tenderness and conveyed the message beautifully. During the responsorial he cried out the words, "eli, eli, lama sabachthani!" Those words, sung with such passion and with such impeccable pronunciation, left me with chills running down my spine. I could almost close my eyes and feel myself in the garden, at the foot of the Cross, listening to Jesus cry out to His Father in heaven. Amazing.

For the second year in a row we had the pleasure of listening to three men from the church chant the Gospel. They did an outstanding job once again. I felt sorry for them, though, because it *is* a long passage and that's a lot of singing! I hoped, for their sake, they had water in the sacristy to refresh themselves.

Once again, Father L delivered a very touching homily that called us to action and not to passiveness. He opened with the story of a small child whom he had visited early that morning (around 1am) who was in poor health. This baby, so tiny, was seizing and had not been given a good prognosis. Father L spoke to the father of the child and, in his homily, reflected on powerlessness. He emphasized the fact that, though we are powerless to stop death, we are not powerless in the face of death. Death was the turning point in salvation history and through Christ's death, we have been saved. Through death, Christ overcame death -- not only for himself, but for us also.

During the veneration of the cross the choir sang again the song that had moved me only a few hours before. Every time they would sing those words (O my people, O my church...) I was moved to tears. I couldn't stop them. Every. single. time. "Jesus, I love you" was all I could say. My words were not deep but they were meaningful. I wept out of love for Him. I wept because of his sincere, unadultered love for me - love so strong that he humbled himself to become man and accecpt even death, death on a cross.

Another touching part for me each year is the litany of prayers. I remember last year I called my friend Heather after Mass to tell her all about those prayers. Heather is Jewish and a very good friend of mine. I could not help but be moved by the Church praying for Heather and her people, the Jews, the chosen ones of God. But even more than that, we as a church pray for everyone in the world in every situatoin and circumstance. We pray for those who do not yet know God's love. We pray for those who have not yet entered the church. No one is left unprayed for. That, I think, is beautiful. It's one of those prayers I really *feel*.

Holy Saturday: After a long day at work and a short nap, I arrived again at the church about an hour and a half before the vigil was to begin. I did spend some time outside talking to a friend (who's kids I watch), wishing her a happy Easter and catching up a bit. It was a refreshing conversation and eased some of the heaviness of heart. When I returned to my pew, I prayed again over my office and meditated on the Passion. I was troubled by the amount of noise in the church but did my best to focus on my prayers.

It is always interesting to see the difference in number and type of people that show up for the first two days of the Triduum and then for the vigil. I probably could have read the office aloud and not have anyone notice. A flickering of the lights (I think it was accidental) quieted the church some and then a bit later the music of the harp began. It was around that time that everyone started to hush. The harp was beautiful (of course) and I felt so peaceful listening to it.

Once the vigil began, the whole church became still. It was amazing. The whole thing was so richly Catholic and so deeply profound. I had a stupid grin on my face during much of the liturgy, especially during the reception of the candidates into the church through the waters of baptism and the chrism of confirmation. My heart quite literally lept for joy at the sight of the candidates. There was one candidate in particular that sticks out in my mind. He is a young man, around my age I would guess, and had a beautiful smile. That smile was worn through the whole Mass, I think, because every time I saw him he was beaming. How wonderful it was to see him so happy, so radiant! He touched my heart. He looked like he might burst into fits of laughter and tears and shouting at any moment. "Thank you, Lord!" I shouted inside myself. I felt like *I* might burst.

Once again, the music at this Mass was beautiful. Mark and Chris, two very talented members of the St. Thomas Aquinas Choir, were our cantors for the evening and they did, as they always do, a phenominal job. They were accompanied by Michael Lindner on the organ and two other musicians, one on the harp and one on the trumpet. Mark sang what was probably *the* most beautiful rendition of Panis Angelicus I have ever heard during communion and I quite literally believed for a moment that Heaven really was on earth. Yes, heaven and earth absolutely join together at every Mass to celebrate the Eucharist but this music made it REAL for me. Yesterday I experienced physically what I always know mentally! We are truly blessed with musical talent at my parish. (Thank you Michael and Mike for your time and talent! Tell Fr. L you need a raise! ;) Haha.)

Easter Sunday: I attended morning Mass today as I have every year. I knew I was not obligated to go as my obligation was filled in the vigil but Mass this morning is different than the vigil. And because I could go to both, I did. I'm not going to lie, I also went for the music. Easter morning brings tympanies, french horns, trumpets, and more! We have been blessed for as long as I can remember to have the festival brass perform at our Masses for Easter and Christmas. It's a great group of guys with amazing talent. The hooplah creates an amazing energy unlike any other. I wanted to be there for it.

The church was PACKED this morning. I arrived at the church about fourty-five minutes before Mass and was lucky to find a parking spot right away. For whatever reason, the first Mass of the day was relatively empty (considering that it's easter and all). By the time the first Mass let out, however, the vestibule was literally crammed with people waiting to get in and claim a spot. I fought the crowd and escape to the side of the church where I was able to slip in without much trouble. I sat in my pew and was undisturbed for a short period of time. Then one of the ushers stood at the front of the nave and shouted out over the crowd, "Okay, everyone! It's time to do the St. Thomas shuffle!" This is code for "get cozy". Deacon K used to have us do the 10 o'clock shuffle when it was crowded and people were standing. He would have everyone in the pews move in towards the center aisle to make room for those without a seat. It was always a little bit exciting to have to do the shuffle. It forced people out of their shells and afforded them an opportunity to, perhaps, meet someone new.

Sitting next to me was a precious little girl. Blonde hair, blue eyes, with a petite set of pearls that worked well to dress her up for our Lord. Her mom leaned over after the shuffle to ask if I had been saving a seat for someone. I told her I hadn't but had simply been trying to avoid hitting the gentleman in front of me with my LOTH. (The man in front of me wouldn't have minded... he's a friend!) She asked if it was the daily office. I told her it was. She looked pleased. After this break in "stranger mode", the little girl seemed quite comfortable sitting next to someone she didn't know and looked over at me quite often. I was delighted by it. The whole church seemed so warm and cozy and family-like. People were forced to loosen up or stand up.

At one point in the Mass the little girl was kneeling on the floor, her hands clasped and her head bowed. When the congregation sat to begin singing, her mom nudged her on the shoulder to sit back in the pew. The little girl turned around and had a small exchange with her mom, pointing to her the pew in front of us and eventually returning to her position... of prayer. The little one knelt there for about two minutes in deep prayer before signing herself, kissing the cross formed by her thumb and pointer fingers, and sitting back, joining her mother in singing the song. Absolutely precious! I love little kids.

I love them for their sincerity of heart and the absolute candor with which they conduct themselves. For instance, kneeling in the pew after communion, I saw "Veronica" and her family to my left. I said hello to Kiddo and then to Fefe. Kiddo looked pleased to see me, her little face lit up with that smile of hers and I could just hear her laugh in my mind. Such a sweetie. When I lifted my arm to say hi to Fefe, gently patting her arm with my hand, she gave me a look I will not soon forget! Haha. She is such a sweetheart, such a cutie, but she did NOT want me touching her! And she let me know. In one look. Haha. Kids are great.

Fefe, with that stern look, left me smiling for some time. And when the moment had passed, I was swept up again in the glorigious celebration of Christ's resurrection. What a beautiful day it is today!

(Side note: Father L caught me off guard today with his homily. He is a great speaker and always does a fantastic job with his pitch, tone, and volume. He uses those things to his advantage at every possible moment and I am always pleased to hear him preach. Usually, he ends his homily with a strong point, but a soft one - a strong message softly spoken. Today, though, he was loud. Very loud. He very sternly told us what to do and how to do it. It wasn't mean. It wasn't even slightly upsetting. It was just passionate. And loud. It was good!)

This post has gotten quite lengthy and for that I apologize. There is so much more I could say about this holy week; it was truly blessed. Here's hoping each of you had a beautiful, richly rewarding holy week. Here's hoping each of you has a beauitful, richly rewarding Easter season.

Christ is risen! alleluia, alleluia!


Blogger Stevie said...

FYI...did you know that the 3 women who brought up the oils at the Holy Thursday mass were the 3 deacon's wives? I though it was really neat. The deacon's are well known around the parish for their service but the deacon's wives live lives of quiet, behind the scenes service to the church! Just like the quiet offering of the oils to our Lord!

3/23/2008 08:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im glad you got to enjoy holy week how you really wanted to!
The one reason i still come home for easter mass at STA is because of the music. we actually got there early enough today to hear the music from the previous mass which was awesome and totally made me feel like i was at home for the first time since i arrived in Dallas a week and a half ago.
~Lauren H.

3/24/2008 12:10:00 AM  
Blogger Laura H. said...

Stevie, I did not really make that connection in my mind! Might have been because I didn't know the third woman was Deacon Ed's wife! :) That's neat!

Lauren, I'm glad you got to enjoy Easter, too! :) Have a good rest of the semester. I'll see you this summer!

3/24/2008 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

I knew they were the deacon's wives and liked the connection with the women always mentioned who traveled with Jesus, supporting them. Who does so more than a deacon's wife?

I think I might have noticed that young man on the Sundays when the catechumens were called up for dismissal. I loved to see him every time.

3/24/2008 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A blessed and happy Easter to you, Laura! :D

I wish I had attended one of the Sunday morning Masses... will have to do that next year. Even though I was there, I love reading other parishioners' accounts and thoughts about the Triduum Masses/services!

All the music was absolutely wonderful... I too loved the "Panis Angelicus" during Communion at the Vigil Mass. It was heavenly. And the Good Friday Reproaches always move me deeply.

--Heather, TPC

3/24/2008 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger veronica said...

It is so nice to hear the recap of the homilies and the feeling of the church. So often I am distracted by the children and I'll catch a snippit of Fr. L and go, "ooh, can I rewind that? I need a pen to jot this down!" and than someone will pinch someone else or baby will want to take off down the aisle, etc!!
Happy Easter!
Definitely NOT "Old News".

3/25/2008 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful reflections! I weep for you and for myself, for you because you get to experience such a rich liturgy. For myself, because after reading your reflections and wishing my experiences at the Triduum was anything as rich. Jessica

3/28/2008 11:25:00 PM  

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