Saturday, April 15, 2006

Welcome to My Holy Week

I'm not quite sure of the best way to handle tonight's entry. Aside from the fact that blogging about religion (aside from unadorned church announcements) always makes me nervous, there's a lot of ground to cover. Even if all I did was introduce each of the photos I want to show you, it would make for a very large, slow-loading entry. After all, like many of you, I'm still on dial-up. More important, though, I'm not sure I've processed the past two evenings yet. I need more time to ponder, and see what words come out of me after tomorrow night.

What I think I'll do for now is introduce the topic, show you a few key pictures, and point you toward the entry that announces the next Round Robin Photo Challenge topic: "holy."

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, but it's on the following Thursday that it really starts to get intense. In the Roman Catholic church I attended as a kid (St. Ann's in Manlius) it was called Holy Thursday. At St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church here in Tucson, though, it's called Maundy Thursday. I keep forgetting what Maundy means, if I ever knew it, but apparently it's derived from Old French and before that Latin. I'll just give you the Wikipedia entry and let you explore from there, if you care.

the sacrament that almost made it.
Washing of the Feet.

At St. Michael's, the Maundy Thursday service begins with sort of a Christian version of a seder meal, with lamb, pita, and even semi-bitter herbs. This is accompanied by prayers, hymns and liturgy readings. One parishioner from each table does the serving, and afterward, the priests go around and wash the feet of those who served. Then we enter the church, singing Shalom, O My Friends, and have the rest of the Mass. It ends with the stripping of the altar and a haunting musical rendition of Psalm 22.

the church around midnight.
Waiting up with Jesus: St. Michael's 11:30 PM.

On Thursday night, overnight, the leftover Sacrament resides in a vessel at the Altar of Repose. People come to the church all night long, usually in pairs, to pray and wait up with Jesus, in commemoration of the night at Gethsemane, when Peter, John and James kept falling asleep. Kevin and I usually do either the 11:30 PM shift or the midnight one. The church is a remarkably peaceful and beautiful place late at night. It's at this point that I try my hardest to connect with God, to make immediate again what is too easily dulled by repetition and nearly two thousand years' distance from modern life.

close encounter

Not a plastic Jesus.

Friday is of course Good Friday. The altar is bare, with just one little candle behind it, under the hidden purple-draped cross. The Passion is sung by three principals plus the choir. Perhaps the most moving part is the Veneration of the Cross. A five-foot crucifix is held up, and people come forward, one by one, to pay their respects by proxy. Most kiss the statue's feet. Others bow, or make he sign of the cross, or just pause and move on. I watched people come up, and it was highly individual, the way different people responded to their close encounter with this rather grotesque piece of art. This particular cross is not of a sanitized, prettified Jesus. It's very definitely of the Suffering Christ. After the veneration, the cross is laid on the steps at the edge of the sanctuary, and people stand nearby to receive the "leftover" Communion. There is no Mass tonight, no Eucharistic Prayer to commemorate the Last Supper. That was last night. Tonight Jesus has been crucified, and is in the tomb.

another view of the cross

After the service, Jesus remains.

Tomorrow night is the Easter Vigil. It's the longest service of the year, with the possible exception of the "Midnight Mass" on Christmas Eve (which at St. Michael's begins with a 10 PM concert). The Easter Vigil begins around dusk, with a small fire in front of the church. We process in bearing candles. The church is mostly dark as we listen of a number of readings. Eventually we come to the commemoration of the Resurrection. The church is lit, and we ring bells as borrowed musicians play triumphant music. The adult baptismal candidates end their months of study and prayers, and make their way out here:

The labyrinth with the baptismal pool.
The labyrinth, with the baptismal pool uncovered.

This is the St. Michael's labyrinth, used for meditative walks. The orange cones are marking a small pool, with is usualy kept covered. That is where Tim and Tim and I-think-the-third-name-is Charles will be baptized.

More tomorrow night, including Easter Vigil pics and the story of "my annual illness."


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1 comment:

Bea said...

We have special services within our church (United Methodist) as well during Passion/Holy WEek. I wasn't there this week to participate, and I missed Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with my congregation. I did attend my mother's church, but it lacked any personal closeness... I was surprised that not one single person welcomed me, said hello to me, or even acknowledged that I was there. Nor did anyone speak to my mother, either on our way in or on the way out. Not even a smile. I had no connection with the service nor the people. The Veneration of the Cross seemed without significance, unlike what you experienced at your church. I understand these services are supposed to be solemn. But had that been my church, and my mother had walked in with me, she would have been surrounded by people greeting her and welcoming her and making her feel special to be there. I love the Labyrinth.. have always wanted to walk one.