Thursday, March 27, 2008

Holy Week, Half-Remembered

The further I get from the end of Holy Week, the less I actually had to say about it. Nor can I fill an entry with photos I took of Holy Week this year. I didn't always have my camera with me, and was too busy being part of things to photograph them too. Well, heck, maybe that means I won't be too long-winded in covering the subject. (What are the chances?)

For those of you who weren't raised in a denomination that celebrates it, I should explain that Holy Week is basically the week that leads up to Easter at the end of Lent. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday. Then we've got three days of nothing special, followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and of course Easter Sunday. I'm not here tonight to convince anyone of anything, just to explain what all that involves at the Episcopal Parish of St. Michael & All Angels, and what small part I played in all that this year.

Palm Sunday 2006

Palm Sunday, 2007

Palm Sunday: This commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, to the acclaim of the crowds. At St. Michael's this service always starts outside in one of the courtyards. The members of clergy celebrating the Mass (priests and subdeacon) wear an oddly shaped hat for some reason, on this day and no other. Palms are blessed and distributed, the Gospel is read, and we all process into the church, singing.

Reading of the Passion (Good Friday 2007 I think)

Once we're inside, it all gets darker. The church is decked out in penitential purple, and a second Gospel is sung, of the Passion (the arrest, trial, and death of Jesus). A member of the choir sings the part of Jesus, another one Pilate, another one Peter, another one the narrator, with the rest of the choir filling in the crowd and bit parts.

This year I was either crucifer (carrying the cross) or torch (carrying one of the candles), I forget which. I kind of think I was crucifer. As you can see from the picture above, the cross gets covered up with a purple cloth at the end of Lent. I'm not quite sure why, but by Good Friday all the icons of the church are covered.

the sacrament that almost made it.
Washing of the Feet, 2006

Maundy Thursday: I can never quite remember what "maundy" means. At St. Ann's in Manlius when I was growing up, it was called Holy Thursday. Either way, it commemorates the Last Supper, which immediately preceded Gethsemane and the arrest, and which is the basis for the sacrament of Holy Eucharist (Communion), the ritual transmogrification of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

The Last Supper was basically a Seder, a ritually significant meal in the Jewish celebration of Passover, commemorating the meal of sacrificed lamb and unleavened bread eaten immediately prior to the flight from Egypt. At St. Michael's we have a lamb dinner in the Parish Center, punctuated by prayers and readings. I was a couple minutes late this year because of John's car breaking down at Oracle and Ina, almost a forty minute drive from our house. When I arrived, Father Smith was just starting the service. He waved me over to a table with a few empty seats, which happened to be the table where Kirk Smith, the Bishop of the Diocese of Arizona, was the honored guest. Before we ate and in between prayers and readings. Proscovia called me away to get my alb on (a one piece white robe), because I was going to be crucifer and would not have time later.

Back at the table, Ila suggested that we each give our names and a little-known fact about ourselves. I said that I blog every night, no matter what, which surprised no one. The Bishop also has a blog, it turns out, and mentioned that he's gotten nasty comments on it. When another parishioner mentioned as her fact that she was a fan of Doctor Who(!), the Bishop impressed me by asking, "old series or new series?"

After dinner, the Bishop and Father Smith went around washing the feet of the people who served the dinner at each table, following the example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples in one of the Gospels. The other Doctor Who fan and I had a good-natured discussion about which of us had the ugliest feet, each of us vying for that distinction but not providing visual evidence. The Bishop gave a little sermon, during which he mentioned having once gone through the motions of washing where a parishioner's feet would have been if he'd had any.

Then I stood outside the Parish Center with Proscovia and the two torchers as everyone else processed past us into the church, singing Shalom, O My Friends. The Mass ended with the stripping of the altar and a haunting musical rendition of Psalm 22. I went back and forth several times between the sanctuary and the sacristy, carrying out cloths and other stuff from the three altars.

the church around midnight.
Waiting up with Jesus: St. Michael's 11:30 PM (2006)

On Thursday night, overnight, the leftover Eucharist resides in a vessel at the Altar of Repose in the back of the church. 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 while Jesus prayed. I had scheduled myself to do this at midnight, but I was blogging and very tired, and I forgot. First year in a long time I've missed doing it.

close encounter
The only icon of Good Friday is a horrific one (2006)

Good Friday. I was crucifer again, carrying the cloth-covered cross. The Passion was sung again, I think from a different Gospel. Then we lined up for the Veneration of the Cross. A five-foot crucifix was held up. First the clergy, and then we acolytes, and then the people came forward, one by one, to kiss the statue's feet, or just touch them; or to bow, or make the sign of the cross, or just pause and move on. After the veneration, the cross was laid on the steps at the edge of the sanctuary, and people lined up again, this time to receive "leftover" Communion. There is no Eucharistic Prayer on Good Friday. As the service ended the acolytes and celebrants "scattered" in disarray, as the apostles did all those years ago. And then I drove a friend home to the south side of town.

Easter Vigil: Saturday night was Easter Vigil. In some churches it's held just before dawn on Easter Sunday, but St. Michael's does it the night before. It began around dusk, with a small fire in front of the church. I was torching, which is a bigger part of the Vigil than other services. The parishioners entered the darkened church, each carrying an unlit candle, or "taper." Father Ireland lit the huge Pascal Candle from the bonfire, and entered the church, where a young acolyte named John and I lit our oil-fed torches off the Pascal Candle. "The Light of Christ," Father Ireland chanted, three times, as he moved up the aisle, to be answered, "Thanks be to God." Between the three of us we provided fire to start the tapers in each pew.

It's a very long service, perhaps the longest of the year, but seemed slightly less so this year. After several readings and chants, little John and I stood by as the Gospel was proclaimed, the story of the empty tomb and Jesus' first post-resurrection appearance. The church was lit and bells were rung, horns played a fanfare and the people sang. I had forgotten my bells, but I noticed later that Father Smith "rang" his jingling keys in the triumphant singing of Jesus Christ is Risen Today. I followed his example, briefly.

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

Easter Vigil at St. Michael's usually includes a baptism in the pool in the middle of the labyrinth. This year we baptized two kids from the parish day school, Paul and Anthony. People again lit their tapers off our torches. As the newly baptized went off to get into dry clothes, Father Smith led us in song. Then we were back inside for the rest of the Mass. And when all that was over, we had a "Break-Fast" of quiche and fruit and blintzes and punch (or champagne) in the Parish Center.

These two rows of chairs are where I sit as an acolyte. 2008.

Many parishioners figure that after celebrating Easter Vigil, which is the first service of Easter itself, they don't need to show up yet again on Easter morning. But as with Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I was scheduled as an acolyte. I torched again. The church was filled with music and light and flowers, and with CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) people. And this time I actually took a picture or two.

Wow, it's late. Good thing I slept for a few hours this evening. But I feel better now, because I'd kind of promised to write about Holy Week again, as I do every year. Good night!


1 comment:

Jama Hameed said...

I'm not a Christian so your entry is really an eye opener for me.