Triduum

This year, for the first time in a while, I actually made it to all three main liturgies of the Triduum, which, in Catholic parlance, is Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Back in the days when I served on liturgy committee and I and my daughters served in music ministry, I would be at all the Holy Week liturgies plus the children’s liturgy on Easter morning, but, after my long-time parish disintegrated in 2005, I couldn’t bring myself to attend all the services. The situation got even more complicated when my elder care responsibilities grew.

Then came 2020 and the pandemic and no one could attend services in person for Holy Week.

I didn’t attend mass in person for over a year. I wrote here about my first time back a dew weeks ago. I noted in that post that I wouldn’t try to attend every week yet due to space constraints at church. I was able to get a reservation to attend Easter Vigil on Saturday evening and decided to attend on Holy Thursday evening and Good Friday afternoon because the church made those open without reservations, although we did have to sign in and leave contact information in case a COVID case was verified and they needed to do tracing. We also had temperature checks and single-use programs so there were no hymnals or prayer books that subsequent worshippers would be touching.

Holy Thursday had long been my favorite liturgy of the year. Its focus is the Eucharist, as it commemorates the Last Supper. In an ordinary year, there would be significant involvement from the laity. The priest would wash the feet of twelve parish members and another group of people, often a family, would dress the altar. There would be a large choir to lead the congregation in sung prayer. Because of the pandemic, everything had to be pared down. Footwashing was eliminated globally to reduce risk. There were two lay lectors, appropriately distanced from the clergy in the sanctuary, but they were both men, so there were no women’s voices in any of the spoken prayers, which added to the sense of distance for me.

The music was beautiful, though. The music director put together an octet from the music ministry, which included some married couples so that the spacing would work as they could stand right next to each other instead of having to be feet apart. With masks, spacing, and good choral microphones, they were able to lead the sung prayer very meaningfully.

Because so much of the Holy Thursday liturgy revolves around a meal, there are many references to food. Because we are living in a time of increased hunger in the United States, these passages were particularly meaningful to me this year. For example, the gathering song was “Table of Plenty” by Dan Schutte, which contains the lyrics, “O come and eat without money; come to drink without price.” and “My bread will ever sustain you through days of sorrow and woe.” Those familiar lines resonated differently knowing that many people do not have enough to eat.

The service on Good Friday afternoon is, by its nature, quite stark. It’s the one day of the church year when there is no mass with Eucharist. Instead, there is a liturgy of the word, veneration of the cross, and distribution of communion with previously consecrated hosts. Without having the liturgy of the Eucharist, the emphasis shifts to the liturgy of the word, which includes reading the passion narrative from the gospel of John.

Paradoxically, Good Friday felt less stark to me than the Lenten and Holy Thursday masses I attended. I think this was due, at least in part, to the fact that there were more lay voices and, in particular, women’s voices included. The first reading, the suffering servant passage from Isaiah, was proclaimed as a choral reading, alternating between a woman lector and the music ministers. The gospel is presented with different people reading narration, the voice of Christ, and the voice of others in dialogue, with the congregation participating as the crowd. Even though we are assigned to proclaim a lot of challenging verses – we have to say, “Crucify him!” multiple times – it is good to feel that we have a part in telling the story.

Another element of the liturgy of the word that gets more emphasis on Good Friday is the intercessions that follow the homily. They were chanted by two cantors, a woman and a man, who alternated between them, with a sung response from the congregation and a prayer by the priest after each. This year, there was an added petition specifically for the pandemic, which was both moving and sobering to hear.

The veneration of the cross was much simpler than in usual years. It’s been the custom for each person to come forward in procession to kiss the cross but that isn’t possible under pandemic protocol. Instead, the assembly knelt and venerated the cross from our places in the pews. In truth, I preferred this to the processing and kissing because it felt more solemn.

For the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, we begin in a mostly darkened church. The time is set to be after sundown so it will be dark so that the first part of the mass, the service of light, begins in darkness. Usually, a new fire is lit and blessed outside the church, the new Paschal candle is blessed and embedded with incense, then lit and carried through the church in procession with music and sung responses, as each person holds a candle which is lit and passed to the next until the church is filled with candlelight for the singing of the the Exsultet (Easter Proclamation).

However, this was rather drastically abbreviated this year. We heard the blessing of the fire and the Paschal candle was brought into the church but the congregation had no candles of their own and most of the lights remained off in the body of the church. The Exsultet was chanted by a cantor whom I have had the privilege to hear sing for many years; it was very moving and brought back memories of hearing the priest chant this prayer when I was the teenage organist in my childhood church.

The liturgy of the word that follows the service of light begins with three readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, each followed by a psalm and prayer. Unfortunately, the lights in the body of the church were still off, which made it a bit difficult for the assembly to sing the psalm responses which were printed in our programs. I happened to know the pieces fairly well so I could sing, but I could tell that some others were not familiar enough with them to join in. Admittedly, it was dramatic to have the lights turned on as we were singing the Gloria, but I missed the growing candlelight followed by the lights being turned on as we extinguished our candles and began the liturgy of the word.

I admit that I struggled with the homily. While it was meant to be a unifying message, the way it was conveyed reminded me too much of how many instances of division there are within our society and the church. It saddened me.

The Easter Vigil is traditionally the time when new adult members enter the church, so there are often baptisms, professions of faith, confirmations, and first Eucharists included. This year, though, there was just one candidate for confirmation, most likely because the pandemic prevented the usual series of liturgies and classes for new members that take place in the months leading up to Easter.

The liturgy of the Eucharist unfolded in almost normal fashion. I was again very appreciative of my organist-friend and the octet she had assembled. The mass that we sang is one that I know well and that we had used often. In my mind, I was adding in the sound of the handbell accompaniment and larger choir that we used on festive occasions like Easter. I wonder when or even if such large and close gatherings will again be possible.

Perhaps I should say that the liturgy of the Eucharist proceeded in pandemic-normal. There is no sharing of a sign of peace, although people do wave or nod to others across the empty pews between occupied-but-spaced ones. We also do the formal dismissal before communion is distributed, so that people receive the host and then exit, all while keeping their distance.

I was just re-reading this post to edit and I’m sure, if you have made it this far, that you realize I’m a bit of a Catholic liturgy wonk. I want to convey my wishes for Easter blessings to those celebrating and my universal wishes for peace, love, respect, and care to all.

Is it Easter yet?

In my religious tradition, Easter is about joy and light and hope.

Easter this year does not feel like that.

I was trying to get ready for Easter by viewing this series for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. They were beautiful videos and being able to watch them alone was helpful. I spent decades involved with church music and/or liturgy planning, so I have many wonderful memories of those liturgies. They are very emotional for me. Even if we had been able to celebrate at our church, though, I probably would have chosen not to attend because I would have been at risk for crying through them. At this time last year, we were in the last few weeks of my mother’s life, so this is another in the long line of “first times” we have been dealing with over these last months. In some ways, it felt appropriate to be commemorating at this time alone.

Easter Day itself was complicated by some upsetting things that happened with family and friends beyond our household. It is difficult to want to help but not be able to do anything, or even to go to see them. Instead of Easter joy, there was a lot of sadness. pain, and uncertainty. One bright spot was watching Mass recorded at our diocesan cathedral. I decided to watch because our bishop is relatively new and I hadn’t heard him preach yet. I  appreciated how pastoral he is: Pope Francis has been appointing bishops who have more pastoral experience rather than just those who have worked their way up through the bureaucracy. It was also nice to hear the cathedral’s pipe organ, two great soloists, and trumpet. I especially appreciated the soprano singing the Mozart “Alleluia” that daughter E had sung for her college auditions.

This Easter Monday has been spent trying to work through some of the complications that arose yesterday. In the back of my mind, I am also thinking of my parents, who were married on an April Easter Monday, though that year Easter Monday was not the thirteenth.

It was 66 years ago and the first time that they won’t be celebrating together.

65

Today is 65th wedding anniversary of my parents, known as Nana and Paco here on the blog.

As people who read regularly or know me IRL will know, Nana is currently in skilled nursing under hospice care with congestive heart failure. My father still lives in their apartment in the independent living section of the senior community and visits her several times a day.

She isn’t eating much these days, so I couldn’t arrange to bring in a celebratory dinner. Instead, I brought in creme brulee for Nana and a slice of apple pie for Paco. At lunchtime, Nana ate some of her treat and some cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, and fruit cocktail. Paco put the rest of the creme brulee in the refrigerator in the leisure room for later.

I found a 65th anniversary card at the Hallmark store from us and bought them cards to exchange. Fortunately, they both liked the cards I picked out.

It was really hard for Nana to stay awake for very long but I was grateful that Nana and Paco had some time to celebrate together.

They have been such a great example for all of us of love, togetherness, and caring. I’m very grateful that they made it to this milestone.

In 1954, April 19 was Easter Monday. Weddings were not held during Lent, so Easter Monday was a good day for a spring wedding. It was also Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, so my father had the day off from work. They thought that they would always have a holiday for their anniversary, but the Monday Holiday Bill intervened so that Patriots’ Day was always on a Monday rather than on the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, which began the Revolutionary War in what became the United States.

This year, April 19 was Good Friday, the most somber day of the Catholic calendar.

It felt appropriate.

organist update

I posted here about a disconcerting incident at the church in Northampton when the organist fell ill at the console during mass on the first weekend in March.

As luck would have it, I was again in Northampton three weeks later for Palm Sunday. There was a gentleman filling in at the piano and organ, so I knew that the regular organist, a woman named Jeanne, was not there.

After mass, I asked two parishioners who were handing out church bulletins for an update. They told me that Jeanne had been ill with bronchitis and on medications, but arrived at church to play anyway – without eating breakfast, as she planned to receive communion. The combination was too much, resulting in the collapse which we witnessed.

The doctors ordered rest for four weeks before returning to work, so I hope that Jeanne was back in the loft for Easter Sunday, leading the congregation from the organ, and feeling well again.

(I am continuing in to be in catch-up mode on posts. With luck, there will be a post about why I was in Northampton again coming soon. Also, the navigation and layout problems with my blog are persisting, with a month’s worth of posts not loading on the main Posts page. The posts are accessible by using the prior or next post links at the bottom of each individual post.)

catching up – again

First, I would like to offer Passover and Easter blessings to those celebrating and sincere wishes for peace, love, and joy to all!

While regular readers might have thought I would have more time to post with daughter E and granddaughter ABC in the UK for an extended visit, and while I myself had hoped this might be possible, it hasn’t worked out that way, at least so far.

And, while I do try to write about the most salient things that are at the top of my mind, I am finding myself too overwhelmed to find words to express how I feel. Maybe, eventually, I’ll be able to. Perhaps in poetry. Perhaps years from now. Perhaps not.

In practical/physical terms, a large share of the last week has revolved around dealing with some changes in Nana’s condition. The edema from the congestive heart failure had accelerated but increasing the diuretics to address it lowered her already low blood pressure even more. We are trying to walk a very fine line to balance the two and, with her usual hospice nurse and aide unavailable for a few days, I have been trying to keep a closer eye on things and inform all the different private aides about the changes and new things we have to watch out for.

Amidst all this, it was wonderful to be able to celebrate Easter together. Daughter T and I attended Easter Vigil at church last night, which was a comforting blend of the familiar and the unique, with the once-a-year rituals of blessing the Paschal candle and welcoming new adult members to the church.

I had my pyx with me to carry the Eucharist to give to Nana today. T, Nana, and I prayed together before T gave communion to her grandmother.

We brought Easter dinner to share with Nana and Paco and Mary who is the Sunday daytime aide. My husband B made Swedish meatballs from a recipe that came to us through the Swedish landlady of my family when I was a toddler. For dessert, he made cherry pistachio biscotti and shortbreads, the latter from a recipe from his family. Not exactly traditional Easter foods, but delicious and special for us this year.

I wish there were a fast and easy way to get thoughts from my head into a post to send out to you all, but I’m afraid instead you will have to continue to put up with haphazard posts with various gaps that I may not even recognize in time to fill them. I hope to back up and write about a few things, like my second whirlwind trip to Northampton last month, as time and brainpower allow, but I know better than to make promises these days.

April 19

As everyone from Massachusetts knows, April 19th is the traditional date of Patriots’ Day. The date should also be familiar to everyone who had to memorize the opening of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” as the date of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which began the American Revolutionary War.

April 19th is also the date of my parents’ wedding anniversary.

This year was their 62nd!

Patriots’ Day was part of the reason they married on April 19th. They thought that my father would always get their anniversary off from work. They had not anticipated the Monday Holiday Bill, which moved many of the holidays from their traditional dates to the closest Monday, giving a long weekend from work, but obscuring the original meaning of the date.

The other reason they married on April 19 was that it was Easter Monday that year. In the Catholic tradition, weddings are not usually celebrated during Lent, so Easter Monday/Patriots’ Day seemed the perfect date to begin their life together.

Of course, given the complexities of life, no marriage could be perfect, but theirs has been a wonderful witness to what a marriage can be when each partner loves and looks out for the other.

Next month, B and I will celebrate our 34th anniversary. I hope and pray that we will be granted the longevity and love that has blessed my parents.

Maybe it will help that I take (mental) notes…

 

bubbles

Note:  I wrote most of this post last Tuesday, but just got back to finish it in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

It’s a week today since Grandma died. The shock is diminishing and we have carved out a few bubbles of not really normalcy but times when we could focus on something else.

Saturday was my dad’s 91st birthday. B and I took Nana and Paco downtown to meet their youngest grandchild, our niece S, at the bus station. It is only a short jaunt down Interstate 81 from the campus where she is a first-year. We went to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, then back to Nana and Paco’s apartment to visit for a bit before we had to bring S to catch her bus back to campus. Paco’s three other grandchildren called during that time, including a skype call from our daughters E and T. It was our first time doing a group call with them. When Paco was growing up, if someone had told him that one day he would be able to communicate with his grandchildren in Syracuse and Honolulu at the same time, he would not have believed it.

Of course, we had not forgotten about Grandma during this time of focusing on Paco’s birthday. After we finished all visiting together on the skype call, B and I went into another room to talk with E and T about how things are going with them as we continue to deal with Grandma’s death. We also discussed trying to schedule a time for the burial later in the spring, which involves trying to work around several commencement dates and long-distance travel.

Another bubble of focusing on something else was Easter vigil on Saturday night. Although the liturgy deals with death and resurrection, it was a way to focus on belief and faith, rather than on my own little recent experience of death.

The third bubble has been the time spent trying to complete my first week of the MOOC I am taking. I was a good student back in the day and apparently my inability to skip out on assignments is still there. I honestly don’t know if I will be able to keep up, but I managed to complete the first week on time.

 

women waiting

In my Roman Catholic faith tradition, today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It is a between time – neither part of Lent nor part of the Easter season – a time of waiting.

This Lent, I have read a number of pieces about how it was the women disciples that accompanied Jesus on the way of the cross while nearly all the male disciples faded away. The women also became the first witnesses to the resurrection because they were the ones going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body in accordance with Jewish burial custom.

The reason that the women could not do this ministry immediately is that they needed to observe the sabbath, the day of rest from work that is such an important part of the Jewish faith tradition. That particular sabbath was an even more solemn one because it was during the eight days of the Passover celebration. So from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, the women rested and mourned and waited to prepare Jesus’s body with perfumed oils and burial cloths.

The women (or Mary Magdalene alone – the gospel accounts differ) must have made their preparations during the night because they were at the tomb near dawn. Finding the tomb empty, they became the first witnesses to the resurrection. In John’s gospel, Christ appears to Mary Magdalene and directly commissions her to “go and tell” which is the essential apostolic mission.

Today, I am reflecting about Jesus who was also resting on that sabbath – although resting in death at that point. Yesterday, at Good Friday services, the deacon reminded us that Lamb of God was one of the oldest titles for Jesus. The coinciding of his death with Passover, when the lamb is slain in commemoration of the protection of the firstborn of the Israelites by marking their doorposts with lamb’s blood, is a powerful reminder of his Jewish identity and faithfulness to the covenant and his mission.

I don’t think that Jesus meant to found a new church. In his earthly ministry, he reached out and healed and spoke and ate with those who were on the margins of society, including Samaritans and others who were not Jews. It is a human tragedy that religion has been used to separate people, to perceive others as enemies, to perpetrate violence and oppression. I believe that God is a spirit of love, revealed in various ways to different cultures throughout time. Like Pope Francis, I appreciate all people of good will, whether they belong to a faith tradition, spiritual or philosophical practice, or not. I recount religious and spiritual topics here from time to time because this is part of who I am; I do not intend to imply that my belief should be yours or is superior to yours or anything else of the kind.

But back to today…

I’m waiting. Tonight, after sundown, we will begin the Easter vigil by lighting a new fire and blessing the Paschal candle which will be used throughout the year, including for baptisms and funerals. Later in the mass, we will use the candle to bless baptismal waters and new members of the church will receive the sacraments of initiation. We will celebrate Eucharist together, sing songs with alleluias, and rejoice!

The waiting makes it that much more special when it arrives.

How to cope with Holy Week when you feel less than inspired | National Catholic Reporter

In a Lent and Holy Week that have been less-than-optimal for me spiritually, I appreciated Father Reese’s honesty and perspective, especially about the theology surrounding the crucifixion.

How to cope with Holy Week when you feel less than inspired | National Catholic Reporter.