|never ceases to speak to me|
Sorry that I have fallen behind a bit here on the blog. Holy Week got the better of me—I climbed down from my ivory tower and got somewhat over-involved in things in the parish this year—I am not sure how, I was just sort of swept away in the current of what was a magnificent experience of incarnating the profundity of Christian spirituality in the rites and ceremonies of the Christian Pasch. It really was an opportunity to enter deeply into the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and Resurrection
Palm Sunday took on a particularly rich significance as in addition to the already dramatic rites of the Blessing of Palms and Procession followed by the reading of the Passion, the Mass I attended was a “bon-voyage Mass” for sixteen special needs teens and young adults and their eighty-five strong entourage of doctors, nurses, caregivers, choristers, priests and brothers who were leaving to spend Easter at Lourdes. The enthusiasm which they brought to the procession and their obvious imaging of the sufferings of Christ in the Passion lifted the veil between the realms of liturgical symbolism and tangible reality in a dramatic way. No, there was no solemn reserve in the Liturgy. Yes, the Mass was noisy, raucous even, with all the idiosyncrasies of those on the autism spectrum but then the streets of Jerusalem echoed with the Hosanna’s of Palm Sunday and the screams to crucify on Good Friday. To see in the faces of these young people the attention and devotion to what was happening, not regarding their own hardships, was a very moving experience.
The remainder of Holy Week took on a more solemn note. We do Taizé prayer here weekly and it is both especially solemn and profoundly tranquil in Holy Week. The focus of the prayer throughout Lent is the Cross—“prayer around the cross”—and it is a haunting mixture of silence and scripture and repetitive music that can transport the worshipper to the foot of the Cross. The liturgies of the Triduum were magnificent. All were done reverently but with no show or pomp. Yes, women were among those having their feet washed on Holy Thursday. And yes, one of the altar servers for the Triduum rites was a young lady—along with her two brothers. Everything was very Novus Ordo. There were three adult baptisms and confirmations at the Easter Vigil. There were Eucharistic Ministers and Lectors (both men and women). Communion was given in both kinds—as it always is in our parish—except, of course, on Good Friday when the Eucharist is given from the reserved Sacrament. The Music ranged from Mozart (Ave Verum Corpus) and Curtis Stephan (Bread of Angles) to John Rutter’s Ubi Caritas. The schola for the Good Friday Liturgy sang the reproaches as well as old spirituals and it was all done a capella. Good Friday afternoon the parochial vicar preached the Seven Last Words along with a string quartet from our local Opera Company doing Hayden’s Oratorio on the Seven Last Words. Easter saw trumpets and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to packed churches for six Masses. Indeed, the Church was full for all the services. At the Vigil there were three adult baptisms and one woman received into the Church. One could clearly see the Sacrament of Baptism as a being buried together with Christ so as to be raised with Christ to newness of Life.
All this is, of course, the icing on the cake: the music, the flowers, even the solemn dignity of the rites. What matters (and what mattered) is just how deeply moved—and hopefully changed—were the hearts of the worshippers. People just stayed in the church for hours, deep in prayer, especially after the Good Friday service. There was a genuine sense, not so much of ritual well done, but of entering into the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion and Death.
I have seen the “photo-posts” on some of the neo-trad blogs with their versus absidem altars draped in purple and a superabundance of copes and dalmatics and references to Byrd and Palestrina. And I am sure they were lovely. I always found that final scene in the first act of Tosca lovely too—the one where they carry a cardboard host in an antique monstrance. But it in the end it is not about ritual and rubrics, it is about prayer. And in the end it is not about tickling the ear with music or eye-candy vestments, but about taking away our hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh.
I am not saying that the old rites can’t do this, but I am observing that the commentaries I read on their wacko sites indicates that they have traded their birthright of conversion for the pottage of ceremonial. Beautiful yes, but the opera is beautiful. The question is: does it change our hearts? Our worship adds nothing to the Glory of God—our transformation into the Love that fills the heart of Christ is what gives God the glory.