Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hoy Week II

I have spent several Holy Weeks in Italy and while there are several places that offer an exceptional experience, Rome isn’t one of them.  (Trapani in Sicily which retains much of the influence of its centuries under Spanish Rule is about the best that I have experienced.)  Holy Week in Rome is a tremendous disappointment.  The papal ceremonies, if you are seated close to the altar are simply turgid with pomp and drag on with an infinity of lugubrious ceremonials.  If, on the other hand, your place is in the midst of the crowd, the papal ceremonies take on the touristy air of a celebrity visit to the county fair.  From either vantage point, it is all about the Pope, and Christ and his passion is somewhat coincidental—more the occasion for the spectacle than its focus.  The one exception, at least to some extent, is the Friday Evening Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum.  It is possible there to find some dark and mystic archway in which to lurk in contemplation of the rites and shut out all that is extraneous to the Story being relived. 
     If you don’t go to the papal ceremonies, most of the parishes are pretty pathetic for the Holy Week liturgies.  Romans tend to be shabby at best about the liturgy.  Roman organists have an ability to make the most majestic pipe organs, even the ones in Saint Peter’s, sound like a circus calliope.  This is the culture that has given us Grand Opera, but the current taste in Church music almost makes one yearn for the Ray Rep guitars of 1970 Chicago.  There is great music for this week in the Church’s repertoire, but in church Italians just seem to have a taste for the most base and vulgar tunes.  And then they wear these moth-eaten shabby vestments left over from the 18th century and the clergy stumble around the sanctuary in their birettas scratching their backsides and yawning.  It isn’t inspiring.     
     I always found in Rome that if one couldn’t flee the city the best place to go for worship, even on an ordinary weekend, is the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere that is the home of the Community of Sant’Egidio, one of the most phenomenal products of the Second Vatican Council.   Over the years their liturgies have lost the primitive simplicity they had when they were in their own tiny sanctuary across the piazza behind the basilica, and have instead become a bit more “High Church” than I care for, but they are prayerful, intensely prayerful with soulful singing. 
     I was fortunate one year to find this Palm Sunday procession in the Borgo Pio, just outside the Vatican gates.  I didn’t join them for Mass but the procession was lovely and sincere, even if it displayed the Italian’s unique skill for organization. 

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