For more years than I can remember, I have been a key person in my various parishes' celebrations of the Triduum: music and liturgy director, cantor, psalmist, choir director, liturgy committee member, fire-lighter, etc., etc.
This year, I spent the Triduum in the pews. I had nothing at all to do with preparing the liturgy; I had nothing to do with any ministerial functions, save being a member of the baptized! And I must say that my heart is overflowing with gratitude to the hundreds of people who put their talents together to prepare celebrations that touched me deeply and profoundly.
For Holy Thursday's Mass of the Lord's Supper, I went to Saint Clement Church in Chicago. I have given retreats and presentations at this parish over the past several years. I know the pastor, Fr. Ken Simpson, and several members of the parish staff. After the procession, seeing this,
the deacon's and celebrant's feet, helped set the tone for the celebration. The liturgy was simple. The music drew the assembly into the mysteries being celebrated. The preaching was spot on. The footwashing was extended to everyone in the congregation.
The procession to the downstairs chapel was reverent. Everything was done with care. I felt well cared for at Saint Clement.
The font seemed to be "waiting."
I had intended to spend the entire Triduum at Saint Clement, but something had occurred here in the Archdiocese of Chicago that changed my mind. When I first moved to Chicago in 1992, I was welcomed by a group of priests, one of whom I knew from my work with the catechumenate. He invited me to a barbecue and it was there that I met the other priests, his friends, whose hospitality I so appreciated and never forgot. One of those priests was Fr. Mike O'Connell. I only saw Mike a few times after that initial meeting, but I never forgot his kindness and hospitality.
In early December, Mike was removed from ministry because of an allegation of sexual abuse that allegedly had occurred in the 1990's. He had been serving as pastor of Saint Alphonus parish here in the city, a large parish in the Lakeview neighborhood. I was heartbroken when I heard the news. Well, just last week, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that the allegation had been proven unfounded and Mike was reinstated as pastor on Tuesday of Holy Week.
I was overjoyed at this news. When thinking about where to go for the celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, I decided to go to Saint Alphonsus. I wanted to be at a service on Good Friday led by this man, this priest who undoubtedly had experienced the cross in profound and painful ways in the last four months. I wanted to hear what his homily would be like.
When I arrived at Saint Alphonsus, a church which I had never visited, I was given a program. The liturgy was to be in English and in Spanish, with a dose of Latin motets as well. The choir was amazing. They created the finest choral sound that I have ever heard in a Roman Catholic church. I was blown away. The Passion Gospel was chanted by a narrator, a "speaker" and one of the parish priests, who sang the words of Jesus. The choir sang the parts of the "chorus." It was superb in every way. We all stood for the passion; no cushy sitting down in this parish.
Fr. Mike was not the preacher, which was disappointing for me. But what happened later in the service touched me deeply. When it came time for the procession and unveiling of the cross, it was Fr. Mike who carried that cross down the aisle, pausing three times, unveiling first one arm, then the other, and chanting in Spanish "Mirad el árbol de la Cruz donde estuvo clavado Cristo, el Salvador del mundo" ("Behold the Wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world"). As he passed by, carrying that cross, I couldn't help but think about what must have been going through his own mind and heart. I felt very close to the Lord Jesus in his passion at that very moment.
Here are a few photos from that evening.
The crucifix used for the veneration must have a parish story or custom associated with it. Fr. Mike and another priest held it for us as the entire congregation came forward to venerate it. Afterward it was placed in front of the altar.
As was the case at Saint Clement, the beautiful baptismal font at Saint Alphonsus just seemed to be "waiting."
It was a stunningly beautiful and moving celebration of the Passion. Once again, I felt well cared for.
On Holy Saturday morning, I wanted to pray morning prayer with a community. Unfortunately, all the parishes within a few miles of my home didn't list Holy Saturday morning prayer on their web sites, so I did a web search, typing in "Holy Saturday Morning Prayer Chicago." The first link was a parish about 28 blocks south of where I live, Saint Barbara in the Brideport neighborhood of the city. I had never been there before.
The church was established by Polish immigrants. The interior was already decorated for Easter. There were about eight of us there, who prayed morning prayer together. Simple and beautiful. Afterward one of the people, who happens to help out with music ministry there, welcomed me and asked me to come back any time, especially since I was looking for a parish. Simple hospitality goes a long way. Here is a photo I took on Saturday morning at Saint Barbara's.
I returned to Saint Clement for the Easter Vigil. During the lighting of the fire and the blessing of it and the lighting of the candle, there were several people placed throughout the crowd outside who shouted out "Christ yesterday and today!" Then "the Beginning and the End!" Then "The Alpha!" Then "The Omega!" "All time belongs to him!" "And all the ages!" To him be glory and power!" "Through every age and forever. Amen" "Amen!" "Amen!" Amen!" Then we all shouted "Amen!"
The liturgy unfolded with beauty and simplicity. When I arrived, I had noticed how stark the interior was; no flowers at all. Just before the Gloria began, the organ's zimbelstern was activated and bells began to ring. The pipe organ's introduction was massive. As the Gloria was sung, people seemed to come out of nowhere, carrying flowers and soon, the area around the altar was adorned with flowers. As the Gloria ended, we all heard the bells in the exterior bell tower begin to fade away.
Eight young adults were baptized. Another perhaps fifteen were welcomed into full communion and a few baptized Catholics completed their initiation through confirmation and first communion. The elect knelt in front of the font and three large pitchers of water were poured over them in baptism. They re-entered the church after the reception into full communion and all of us renewing our promises and making our way up to the font to bless ourselves with baptismal water. Then came the confirmations. The laying on of hands and anointing was done with deliberation and great care. The music throughout was superb; the singing of the congregation was strong.
It was such a joy to then celebrate the Eucharist. I was truly filled with Easter joy.
Folks, it was an overwhelmingly beautiful and touching Triduum for me. The sense of love and gratitude I have for those of you who bring the Triduum to life in your parishes is so deep and real for me. I needed these three days more than you know. And I am sure there are people just like me who needed the Triduum in your parishes as well. God bless you for what you do beautifully for God!
And now we have fifty days to relish these treasures.
Christ is truly risen, Alleluia.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.