Holy Week in Review

When I worked for Colonial Williamsburg the powers that be introduced a curriculum in which the events of four important days leading up to the Revolution were recreated in the streets and buildings of the Historic Area. On Wednesday the royal governor’s wife arrived in with much fanfare to show that Virginians were still loyal subjects in 1774. On Thursday, it is April 1775 as Peyton Randolph prepares to attend Continental Congress in Philadelphia and news arrives of bloodshed in Massachusetts. It’s November 1775 on Friday and Governor Dunmore is offering to liberate slaves who will fight with him against their rebel masters. Finally on Saturday, it’s May 1776 and Virginia votes to declare independence. Then we started all over again.

Instituting the new program was tough and repetition made it even harder to keep things fresh. That the program debuted during Holy Week that year meant I was extra busy both at work and church. It also made me realize that Colonial Williamsburg’s new idea wasn’t that new. The Church had been doing the same thing every Holy Week for nearly 2,000 years. On Palm Sunday, Christ is received in glory in Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday he dines with his friends, washes their feet, and is betrayed. On Good Friday, Jesus is put to death. And finally, with great huzzahs, Christ rises from the dead on Easter Sunday. Each year we recreate the stories the bear repeating (although I’m glad we don’t have to reenact them twice a week from March to October).

Here’s the story of my Holy Week for 2007.

Palm Sunday

I’d not been on a retreat for a long time, so around Christmas I began looking for somewhere to take a prayerful weekend. I discovered Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham would be holding a weekend of quiet prayer the last weekend of Lent and immediately signed up. I find that I’m all too often a human do-er rather than a human being and while I serve several ministries in my church community, volunteer regularly, and try to read scriptures and reflections daily, I fail at the simple act of praying and loving God, so this retreat seemed ideal.

I did have the problem that Glastonbury Abbey is not currently on any public transit lines. So I sailed on the harbor ferry from Rowe’s Wharf and then walked about 3.5 miles to the Abbey. This added a fun cruise and a bit of a pilgrimage to my retreat. I regularly walk three miles to work so that wasn’t such a big deal to do the walk although I was unpleasantly surprised that some roads in Hingham have no sidewalks. It’s evidence of the preponderance of car culture that the other retreats were aghast that I walked and insisted on giving me a ride back to Hingham Center on Sunday.

Glastonbury Abbey’s grounds are beautiful and the monks are friendly and easygoing. I imagined them filing into the church in rows while chanting, but it turns out there are only eight Benedictines in residence with one guest monk. The retreat itself was lead by Fr. John Kelleher, OSB. He taught a type of contemplative prayer called centering prayer which dates back at least to medieval times and is taught by people like Thomas Keating and William Menninger. This type of prayer is simply loving God with no strings attached, and the best part is that one cannot do it wrong. Fr. John emphasizes that it’s not for everyone but I found it very satisfying to what I had come to the retreat looking for.

I also enjoyed the fellowship of my fellow retreatants, a group of kind people with interesting stories. I also enjoyed participating in the various prayer services of the liturgy of the hours. The monastery is very much part of the neighborhood and many local people are involved in praying and working with the monks. On Palm Sunday we had a beautiful liturgy beginning with a procession up the hill to the church. In a personally beneficial example of “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first” I was one of the last people to enter the Church from the procession. The hospitality ministers asked me to join several people standing in the corner. They searched for seats for several of the more elderly people and by the time the first reading was about to begin, only another retreatant and myself were left standing. Then one of the hospitality ministers told us he had two seats, and they were in the stalls, where the monks sit!!! They may call them miserichords but I found my seat comfy and a unique place to be during Mass.

All in all a most blessed weekend.

Here are my photos from the weekend.

Holy Thursday

Monday through Wednesday are kind of a calm before the storm in Holy Week, three days of quiet anticipation. Then Thursday comes, Lent ends, and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper kicks of the Triduum. Martha, Martha has a good explanation of what the Triduum means.

The Mass on Holy Thursday is bittersweet. On the good side it is a commemoration of a simple meal that Jesus shared with his friends, one that is recreated each time we celebrate and share the Eucharist. Equally powerful, Christ demonstrates what it means to serve by getting down on his knees and washing his disciples stinky feet. Peter, of course, doesn’t get it. Peter usually stands in for most of us, because speaking for myself I can assure you that I don’t understand the magnitude of what Christ teaches us.

At my church we have a tradition that everyone has their feet washed. The person who has just been washed washes the next person in line. Everyone is a servant and everyone is served. I attended one of the foot washing stations and so I got to see men and women wash the feet of their spouse, parents wash the feet of their children, and most touching people washing the feet of complete strangers. That was the case for me as a man I’ve never met before and whose name I still don’t know washed my feet. It was a busy Mass for me as I also processed with the Cross and proclaimed the scripture from Exodus, but that moment sticks out most for me.

The sad side of course is that Christ is betrayed, arrested, and abandoned. In the Mass, the Eucharist is carried out of the chapel and the door of the tabernacle left wide open. In solemn procession Jesus is taken away from us.

I was moved by Dawn Eden’s reflection on The Last Kiss on Busted Halo. It’s long been a mystery to me why Judas had to betray Jesus. I don’t mean the historical or symbolic reasons that Christ was betrayed by a friend, but why the Jewish authorities even needed Judas to find Christ. I know there are several instances in the Gospels of Jesus being protected by the presence of the crowds, but on the other hand he never hid either, so I wonder why the authorities needed Judas to find him.

Good Friday

The most solemn day of the liturgical calendar remembering when Christ was tried, mocked, abused, and put to death on a Cross. A sad and harrowing tale. Since it is believed that Christ died around 3 in the afternoon, that is the time the Lord’s Passion begins at all the area churches. If they wanted to go for real synchronousness the Passion would start at 8 am which is 3 pm in Jerusalem time, and then I would have been able to attend. As it was I was stuck at work and with desk shifts to cover I could not even sneak out for a long lunch. Instead I made do listening to the New American Bible and Pray-as-you-go podcasts while I worked.

In the evening, Susan and I attended Tenebrae, the service of darkness. In a mostly darkened chapel, prayers are read, scriptures proclaimed, and lamentations sung. After each reading one of seven candles is extinguished. Finally the last candle is removed from the chapel and everyone makes a terrible noise of slapping the pews, stamping feet, and banging drums and sheet metal in the balcony to represent the earthquake at Christ’s crucifixion. It’s a beautiful and moving service.

For Good Friday, Dirty Catholic reflects beautifully on bearing a tiny cross for Christ and Fr. Ben Hawley writes about mourning a friend.

Easter Vigil

The mood swings 180 degrees for the marathon Mass on the eve of Easter. Fr. Kelly, the chaplain of Catholic campus ministry when I was at William & Mary, always mentioned that the early Christians would stay up all night before Easter reading scripture and sharing stories of Christ. A woman at Glastonbury Abbey told me that the monks and the community have started the Easter Vigil at 4 am on Easter morning so that the natural sunlight floods into the church at the appropriate time. By comparison, our 3 1/2 hour Mass is pretty lightweight.

I was not as involved in Easter Vigil as I was with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, but Susan lead the Sacristans for the Vigil so I had a front-row pew on all the behind-the- scenes action. This includes the inevitable gaffes which were many but inconsequential. All the important things happened:

  • The three elect were baptized.
  • These same three women received the sacraments of Confirmation and first Eucharist.
  • And most importantly, Jesus rose from the dead.

The Easter Vigil is so amazing in so many ways. It starts in darkness with the Service of Fire. The Paschal Candle is blessed and lit and the flame is passed from candle to candle among the congregation (try to resist singing “Pass it On” in your head as this happens). Then it’s story time. Nine, count ’em, nine readings from scripture going through our entire faith history culminating in the resurrection of Christ. You don’t realize how much you miss those Alleluias until your belting them out as the lights come up.

The big moment for me during Easter Vigil each year is when the elect come forward to be baptized. They lay prostrate on the marble, and every year I end up weeping. It’s such a powerful thing to see, especially since I cannot remember my own baptism. Their actual immersion is something great to see as well. I asked one of our neophytes after the Vigil what it was liked to be baptized. She said that she couldn’t tell me right now other than it was wet and short. “The marble was really long, but the baptism was short.”

John Dear, S.J. wrote this great reflection on Easter and the resurrection.

Paschal Vespers

To complete the weekend(but only begin the Easter Octave) we attended the Paschal Vespers service on Sunday night. This service is the antithesis of Tenebrae. Candles are lit by each person and placed in a bowl of sand. They are not snuffed but instead allowed to burn brilliantly merging together into one consuming flame. The service alternates between prayer, scripture, and song, all of it joyous celebration of Christ’s ressurection. It’s really one of the most beautiful events that happens in the Church year.

And so, on Tuesday of the Easter Octave I finally complete writing this post. Happy Easter, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Home Openers

The Mets began their 44th and penultimate season at Shea Stadium in a winter chill yesterday against division rivals the Philadelphia Phillies. After losing two games to the Braves they should have won, karmic reordering saw to it that the Mets defeated the Phillies despite doing everything in their power to lose. This includes John Maine pitching only 4.2 innings after allowing a home run a career high 6 walks. Then Willie Randolph headscratchingly leftAmbiorox Burgos in to pitch to MVP slugger Ryan Howard with two on and a base open (Howard took him deep). Somehow the Phillies fell apart in the late innings with an error, a wild pitch, poor relief pitching, and all around sloppy play to allow the Mets to turn the game into a laugher.

I have to admit that I took pleasure in Jimmy “We’re the team to beat in the NL East” Rollins’ error that opened the floodgates. This is the type of thing that could help create a deep-seeded rivalry between the two clubs and their fans. Major League Baseball has some great rivalries in the Red Sox-Yankees, Cubs-Cardinals, and Giants-Dodgers, but the Mets have never had a longstanding rivalry. There were some good times between the Mets and Cubs in 1969 & 1984 (how likely is that two franchises with histories of futility managed to have coinciding great years twice in a fifteen year period?), the Mets and Cardinals 1985-87, and the Mets and Braves on and off since 1997. By regional proximity though, the Phillies should be the Mets natural rival. Should the Phillies recover from their bad start this could be the start of something big. Even better would be the Mets, Phillies, and Nationals fighting a three-way battle year after year for NL East primacy (with the Mets finishing first each time, of course).

By the way, I found this awesome blog post that offers a Mets season preview from the perspective of Lou Reed.

Players of the game (I award up to ten points, maximum of 6 points to one player, distributed among the Mets players who had the biggest impact in the game):

Phillies 5, Mets 11: Box Score

  • Alou 1
  • Beltran 1
  • Delgado 2.5
  • Feliciano .50
  • Franco .50
  • LoDuca .50
  • Reyes 1.5
  • Smith .50
  • Valentin 1
  • Wagner .50
  • Wright .50

The Red Sox began their home season today with their 96th home opener at Fenway Park. I saw fans in their Red Sox gear on the T at 10 am, and I think the game was worth getting there early for.The day began with a salute to the Impossible Dream team that won the AL Pennant in 1967. That team was a big turning point in Red Sox history coming at a point when they were a cellar-dwelling franchise in decline. A lot of Boston’s reputation as a great sports’ town with die-hard Red Sox fans developed only in the last 40 years. During this time the Red Sox have an incredible record of consistency, finishing with a losing record only 4 times in that period, winning 90 games or more 11 times, finishing in 2nd place 12 times, winning the AL East title 5 times, playing in the post-season 11 times, and earning four American League pennants. I think the real statistical improbability is that the Red Sox have only one World Series Championship to show for their forty years of excellence while several woefully inconsistent franchises like the Marlins, Blue Jays, Twins, and yes, the Mets all have two in the same time period.

Today the Red Sox demolished the Mariners 14-3, and it wasn’t even that close. The Sox scored in each of the first 5 innings to build up a 13-1 lead. Surprisingly Big Papi wasn’t responsible for any home runs, extra base hits, or RBI’s in the smackdown. Josh Beckett saw to it that the big lead really wasn’t necessary by holding the Mariners to only 1 run and 2 hits over 7 innings with 8 strikeouts (including Ichiro 3 times!). Lots and lots of numbers means lots and lots of fun.

Daisuke Matsuzaka returns to the mound for his Fenway debut tomorrow night. Can Boston withstand the hype?

The Bostonist today predicts five great ovations at Fenway this season and has this great shot of the Fenway seats for photo of the day.