Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lent at Saint John's Seminary

Thursday greetings on a snowy morning here in the Midwest. Took nearly two hours to drive to work this morning. So frustrated with the ways that Chicago suburbs like Oak Park and River Forest clear (or don't clear) their streets when snow arrives. This is winter. This is the Midwest. This is not rocket science. They are putting the public in danger. Just don't get it.

At any rate, safely at the office now and simmering down . . .

After re-reading my post of yesterday, more memories kicked in, this time of my experience of Lent while preparing for the priesthood at Saint John's Seminary College and Saint John's Seminary School of Theology in Boston.

Here are some photos of saint John's.



Lent in the seminary was, in a word, wonderful. And why wouldn't it be? Here we were, scores of like-minded guys, all trying our best to develop a spiritual life, entering this holy season together. The seminary just didn't seem the same during Lent; it just felt holier somehow. Remember this was the seventies and early eighties. I recall the Friday night celebrations of Stations of the Cross in the college seminary chapel. We had guys up in the organ pipe chambers that were suspended above the choir area. Their disembodied voices would speak some of the parts in "Every Man's Way of the Cross," the "in" way of the cross back then.


I was usually at the organ, playing the hymns for the stations. And the singing was always full throated and "beefy." I miss that unique sound.

We had very moving communal celebrations of reconciliation. We also had long, often boring and unhelpful addresses by the various rectors of the seminary, at least for me. And I remember going to my confessor often during Lent, always feeling God's love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Most of Lent, for those of us involved with liturgy and music at the seminary, was focused on preparing the liturgies of Palm Sunday and the Paschal Triduum. There were lots of choir rehearsals. And then there were the music rehearsals of the entire seminary community on the mornings of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. We would rehearse the whole house of guys, teaching them new chant pieces, psalms, acclamations, and hymns.

As I look back on all of this, I realize what a special place that was for someone like me who is "into" the liturgy. The "audience" was always captive and the closed community meant that we were all "in this together." Special place, for sure, but certainly not reflective of pastoral life at all. I think, though, that I was able to take the good pieces and make them work pastorally in parishes in which I ministered. Grateful for many things those seminary days taught me. Still bitter, frankly, at what would at times be an oppressive, paranoia-inducing structure that did little to embolden the human spirit, at least of this guy. Life is like that. Not just in seminaries, I guess.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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