Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter

Being Catholic means (well, for some but not all) spending a lot of time in church during a certain weekend in March or April. I am glad that I have a job that allows me to participate in everything, right down to the Saturday morning spent washing pews and carrying lilies to help get the church spruced up for Easter.

It's the Vigil that I most look forward to. Beforehand the darkened church is quietly buzzing with anticipation as the assembly begins to gather, servers, clergy, musicians, and readers go over their parts and catechumens don the robes they will wear for baptism. The liturgy begins with a blazing fire near the sidewalk in front of the church. Do passersby wonder what we are up to? The Paschal candle is lit and the fire spreads across the tapers held by everyone old enough not to burn the clothing of the person in front of them in procession back into the church.  "Christ our Light!"

It's a long Mass, two hours plus, or even three or four (I have heard) in places, but it's a night for telling our story and renewing our hope. And that takes time. I feel the joy as the lights are all turned on and as I remember the "resurrections" I have experienced and witnessed in life. The story is not just one that happened two thousand years ago, but one that is imprinted onto the hearts of those who celebrate this feast each year.

It's a  long celebration, but it's also "outside of time," so that almost every year at the conclusion, someone remarks how surprising it is that it is so late.

He is risen! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Friday

In the days when there is the most to say, I have the least time to write. Much more could be said about the Triduum.

One day is not enough (but it's a start) to ponder the mystery of the death of Jesus. I have not always gone to the Good Friday liturgy, but for many years, yes. And yesterday I was drawn in, even if the service tends toward "arcane and baroque" as someone recently said.

The veneration of the cross seems like a strange custom for people (sometimes I just touch the cross), but it's a pretty good example of the way Catholics involve the senses in our liturgies and the way that we speak with symbols as much as with words.It is a religion for the whole person, not just the intellect.

Questions on my mind yesterday had to do with the meaning of Jesus' death for us, as well as what his example of sacrifice in life as well as death mean for me in my own life. And I thought about where Christ is being crucified today. Some want to gloss over Good Friday, because Jesus rose from the dead, after all. We know the end of the story. But then do we have the tendency to also overlook suffering today that does not directly touch us? Do we know how to find hope, and to give hope, in the midst of all the problems in our world? Some churches, including my own, have Stations of the Cross that make the connection explicitly. A group downtown actually walks a path of suffering in neighborhoods there.

Just some thoughts, as a Catholic, from yesterday.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Thursday

Yesterday in the hour before midnight, at a time on a Thursday when I would normally be snug in bed, being Catholic for me meant sitting with a handful of others in a cry room transformed with tabernacle, candles and Easter lilies into a tiny chapel. Utter silence was punctuated occasionally by the rustling of coats or the opening and closing of the door as people came and went. "Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray."

When my children were young and the household was always brimming with activity, I looked forward to what often became my best opportunity for extended prayer in the entire year. I have vivid memories of times when I poured out a troubled heart to Christ. In some years, I am like the disciples, barely able to remain awake. At times, being Catholic has meant standing in front of the church or in the parking lot in the first hour of Good Friday, talking to a parishioner or two leaving at the same time.

One year the pastor could not stay awake, either. He fell asleep in a rectory chair with his black Labrador in his lap until our after-midnight call summoned him across the street  to lead us in the benediction with which he customarily ended the vigil. Later he changed "closing time" to 11pm, and when a friend and I protested because we find the last hour to be the quietest and most conducive to prayer, he allowed us to remain in the church after he went home to bed. I will never forget our silent procession, just the two of us, at midnight in a completely dark church as we walked up the aisle to place the Blessed Sacrament safely in the sacristy. Nor will I forget our consternation and our late-night call to my husband when we could not get the church alarm to set properly!

It is a tradition that I cherish, to return some time after the Mass of the Lord's Supper, to enter more deeply into the Triduum.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Taize prayer

Taize music isn't just for Catholics, but it's been in Catholic parishes and conferences where I have experienced it. Yesterday as sunlight faded into dusk outside of the stained glass windows of my own church, I watched the flickering flames of candles and let myself sink into the repeated phrases of the songs from the ecumenical community in France -- sometimes singing, sometimes simply listening. I woke up this morning with one of the refrains still playing in my head.

"Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray. Watch and pray."

"Dona Nobis Pacem Domine."

It was a graceful way to enter into Holy Week.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Art

Last night I ran into a former pastor. It was a Friday in Lent, so if you've read the last two posts, you can figure out where that might have happened! He arrived at his current parish nearly four years ago with a germ of an idea for an exhibition of sacred art. Yesterday we talked about how that thought will soon become a reality.

That has led me to think about how the Catholic Church (and by that I mean not just the institution but its people), has given quite a lot of wonderful art to the world. When some of the members of my department were planning for our "hermitage room" where students would have opportunities for solitude in the midst of a busy school day, we decided that we wanted art. We wanted something beautiful and meaningful for students to look at during their time in the room. And so we asked a local artist, an alum and a former teacher of our school, to create something for us.

On occasion it seems that it takes an awful lot of words to get across the Catholic faith. There is no shortage of documents penned by church fathers and Vatican officials. But maybe because there was an era when many could not read, it seems we have for a very long time also expressed our faith in visual ways. The result for me, as a Catholic, is more beauty in my life.

Sculpture of Jesus and a young woman by Suzanne Young