Holy Week is upon us, and, as many people do, we make plans to be with family. Our family of Sisters, that is. Indeed, Holy Week includes our most solemn and important liturgical celebrations.
We began with Palm Sunday, with the blessing of the palms and a procession around the chapel. The palms, waved at Jesus upon his arrival into Jerusalem, also signal victory.
As we know, it will be a hard-won victory.
Holy Thursday begins our Triduum (which literally means 3 days). We go about the day as usual – in prayer and in ministry – but the evening holds much different events.
First, we enjoy a Seder meal, which is really a remembrance of the Passover meal celebrated by Jewish people to commemorate their flight out of Egypt. Candles will be lighted and plates laid with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. As we taste the bitter herbs, we are reminded of the bitter taste of slavery. As we taste the unleavened bread, we are reminded of the haste with which the Jews fled. They had no time to let their bread rise!
We enjoy a festive, relaxed meal together; a Last Supper. When we finish, we head upstairs to the chapel for Mass.
At the beginning of Mass, the Gloria is sung and the tower bells and hand bells are rung! It’s a joyful noise indeed! At the end of the song, though, the bells are silenced and the mood turns somber.
After the Gospel, Prioress Sister Sandra Brunenn and the presider wash the feet of 12 people (several of whom are staying with us during the Triduum Retreat). This commemorates Jesus’ act of washing his apostles’ feet.
After Communion, the Transfer of the Holy Eucharist occurs. The hosts that have been consecrated for Friday (when there will be no Mass) are placed in a large ciborium. Sisters form two columns down the aisle, between which the cross, candles, incense and ciborium will be carried to the Eucharistic Chapel. As we sing “Praise We Christ’s Immortal Body,” the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the open Tabernacle.
While some of us stay for Eucharistic Adoration, keeping awake with Jesus as he waits in the garden of Gethsemane, the rest of us will leave in silence.
The altar and chapel are stripped of all decorations: banners, palms, altar cloths. At 11 p.m. the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the Tabernacle of Repose in the Sacristy, where it will remain until Holy Saturday.
Good Friday is a day of profound silence, contemplation and reflection. There are no bells, no singing. We gather for Lauds in the morning and afternoon services at 3 pm. We read the Passion, participate in adoration and veneration of the cross, and receive communion. We remain in silence.
On Holy Saturday, we gather for Lauds as on Good Friday, and for a short Vespers service in late afternoon. Then, the Easter Vigil begins at 8. We gather outside the front door for the Lighting of the New Fire. The sun might be setting, but dawn and the resurrection are coming!
The New Fire consumes our old palms. The Paschal Candle is lighted from the New Fire, as is the incense. The presider sings, “The Light of Christ,” and the Sisters reply, “Thanks be to God.”
We then process into the chapel, where we light our individual candles from the Paschal Candle. Imagine the once-dark chapel filled first with the light of many candles and next with joyous voices singing the Exultet (Easter Proclamation).
We then pray a series of readings that finishes with the Gloria, during which every once-silenced bell is rung again. Alleluia!
At the end of this glorious Vigil and Mass, we gather for a social hour with refreshments and conversation – the first since Thursday. Easter morning will bring another lovely Mass, followed by a special brunch and festive evening meal.
To be called to a lifestyle where we immerse ourselves in Jesus’ life and passion, in community, is great joy for us. Pick up the phone (309-283-2300) or email us to learn more. Blessings this Easter season … and always.