Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on April 9, 2007.
I feel guilty for not posting during the last week on the Holiest week of the Church year. As I wrote that first sentence, I recalled the old jokes about Catholics and guilt. OK, so I don’t feel really, really guilty. I just feel a little guilty.
But Holy Week has now passed us by and we have embarked upon the 50 days of celebrating the Easter Season! Woo hoo! Hey, you non-Catholics can tease us Catholics all you want about our 40 days of Lent and giving things up and not eating meat on Fridays, but what you fail to realize is the unabashed partying that takes place after all that. (“Unabashed” and “partying” probably need a more refined, Catholicized, interpretation in this reading. But still…)
I didn’t really post all that much on the Lenten Season. I had hoped to get around to it, but life often throws you in another direction. For me, that direction was my Dad, my kids, my sudden interest on Global Warming and Earth’s cycles, my CD project, and so on. But I would like to take a little time to reflect on the last 40 days leading up to and culminating in Easter, which is not as much about the Easter Bunny as some may think, and probably more to do with the Resurrection of Christ than many wish.
We try to give things up as a family and as individual members of the family during the Lenten season. I try to be careful to be low-key on those things so as to not be building myself up. But that will not be a concern this year. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I made Lent the season it was intended to be this year as much as I would should have. I’m human, and while that is a reason, it’s not an excuse. But still, our whole family did manage to use the season to get a good confession in – as I think everyone should. We said more complete Rosaries and/or Divine Mercies as a family, and we greatly curtailed our dining out. All in all, the season still looked a little different. In reality, it probably looked more like it should look! Many people in the world have it a lot worse every day than I have it on my worst day during Lent, that’s for sure.
Holy Week was a little more trying this year because of the situation with Dad. He offered his own “passion” for the week with the Passion of Christ as best he could, I think. The Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are always very enjoyable to me. I know some people can’t get past the amount of time these services last (although the same people can sit and watch a stupid movie for two hours with no issues) but I hope most people take away the lessons of those days. Holy Thursday, for any non-Catholics who may be interested, is celebrated in the Catholic Church as a celebration of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Of course, that’s the summit of it, but there are other interesting elements involved in that night.
Normally, the tabernacle in the front of the Church houses our Lord in His Eucharistic presence, and so we genuflect as a sign of reverence. This becomes commonplace for us and we sometimes forget why why do what we do. Holy Thursday reminds us, because on that night the hosts are removed from the tabernacle and it is open. Thus, no genuflection takes place, just a simple bow to the sanctuary. Also, during the Mass there is a “washing of the feet” ceremony where the Priest washes the feet of the Parishioners. I always welcome a good explanation of the sign of humility involved with that ritual. In Christ’s time, this was the ultimate lowering of oneself in complete servitude to another. The other thing about Holy Thursday that is special is the stripping of religious symbols (or covering them) in the Church. All crosses/crucifixes are covered, the altar is stripped bare, holy water is emptied, etc. This is because Holy Thursday marks the beginning of our Lord’s passion. We will uncover all these things at the Easter Vigil in celebration of His Resurrection.
The Triduum is interesting in that the three days, Holy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter Vigil are all considered to be one continuous and long Mass. Holy Thursday begins with the Priestly blessing, we have the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist, but there is no profession of faith and no final blessing. On Good Friday, there is no Mass said. It is, in fact, the one day of the year where it is not permitted. Instead, we have a service where we read John’s account of the passion and a veneration of the cross. The veneration in a large church like ours takes a long time, but it is a wonderful opportunity to symbolically take your burdens and place them at the cross. We do have communion with Eucharistic hosts consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass, but no prayer of consecration is said, and thus it is not a Mass.
Finally, the Easter Vigil is the wonderful, high point of the Christian year in the Catholic Church. The church starts out dark with only a single candle (a large candle that will burn all year, called the Paschal candle) lit. From this candle, symbolizing Christ as the Light of the world, all persons in the church will receive a flame to light the candles they are holding. When all is done, the church lights up and the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection begins! The Vigil is lengthy, but very much worth it. It is the night that many, many catechumens fully enter membership into the Church. Any people that have not received a Christian baptism (non-Catholic but Christian baptisms of proper form are valid) are baptized. Children are baptized. People receive their First Eucharist. People are confirmed. It’s a wonderful celebration. The readings, the Eucharist, the litanies, the candles, the entrants into the Church… All point to Christ, and it is a fitting beginning to the Easter season!
Now, in our family, we used to attend the Vigil before, oh, the fourth kid or so. As the kids get a little older we will go back to that, but for now we’ve attended Mass on Easter Sunday. That’s very nice, too, but not as large a celebration as the Vigil. (The early Vigils used to be the only Easter celebration, and would go all night! Now, people complain if they go past a couple hours…) This year my two daughters and I joined in the music at the 10:30 Mass, so that was nice in a different way.
Of course, the Easter tradition with the kids just wouldn’t be complete, though, without a visit from the Easter Bunny. That tricky bunny does have a knack for hiding the baskets of the older kids in the most difficult places!