Sunday, April 12, 2009

On the Triduum: Part One

(Translation: If you're pressed for time / lazy you can probably skip this part and miss little.  I just want to write it.)

I have attended Triduum liturgies at four places in my life:
1) St. Joseph Parish, Carteret, NJ - My home parish (i.e., I grew up there).  Have attended Triduum there for about as long as I can remember through freshman year of college, inclusive.  Sang in the choir for three Triduums (including freshman year of college).
2) Christ the King Parish, Ann Arbor, MI - Home parish of many of my good friends from college.  The Catholic parish that grew out of the incredible ecumenical charismatic community in A2.  Just one Triduum.
3) Franciscan University of Steubenville, Steubenville, OH - Liturgy Committee.  For two Triduums I was part of the crew that ran everything behind the scenes.  We learned those liturgies inside and out; I exaggerate not when I say we were quizzed on details such as "What happens immediately following  the baptism of the catechumen at the Easter Vigil?"
4) St. Anthony of Padua Oratory, West Orange, NJ - My present parish.  Run by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.  Traditional Latin Mass only.  This year was my first Triduum there (and yes, I was in the choir loft).

On My Parish
St. Anthony's, though canonically an Oratory (thank you Archbishop Myers!), is just a small parish chapel.  In recent years (i.e., during college) I became used to large, specialized places of worship - the campus chapel in Steubenville, the Pittsburgh Latin Mass Community, Christ the King in Ann Arbor.  I knew that I'd kind of outgrown my home parish (a topic for another time), but after being accustomed to such large-scale Ecclesial moments, in which it's easy to pull out all the stops for special occasions and be selective enough to do things perfectly, it was a bit of a switch to find my home at a place where there are about five choir members, and the altar servers are pretty much the same every week (give or take one or two), and not everything is as perfect as it could possibly be.  I guess it's analogous to moving to a small town after loving living in a big city: it's not exactly where I imagined myself being, but I am home here, and I've grown to love it.  Besides, this is more typical than the big city anyway.  I can be a normal person for a change.

Holy Thursday
We finished choir rehearsal early, and as I was sitting in a back pew reading about the day's liturgy in Pius Parsch's Year of Grace, I noticed a cassocked leg walk past me.  Wondering whether it was one of our two priests or a server, I glanced up - and was shocked to discover Msgr. Schmitz, Vicar General of the Institute and Provincial for the US!  You must understand, this man is one of my favorite priests ever, and it was a shock and a delight to discover him there.  Because that meant two things: 1) A Schmitz homily and 2) Solemn Mass.

I'm unaccustomed to Solemn Mass, as we only have two priests (I've probably only been to half a dozen Solemn Masses), which is a shame because Solemn Mass is the way the Liturgy is supposed to be, the proverbial yardstick by which one measures the Liturgy.  High Mass and Low Mass are what you do when Solemn Mass isn't a reasonable option.  Anyway: what this means is that I got to experience Holy Thursday in all its glory.  I don't recall much that stood out to me as particular or different any more so than any Sunday Mass (save that the Mandatum, or Washing of the Feet, is optional), until the very end.

After the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose, the clergy (priest, deacon, and subdeacon) processed to the sacristy (in silence.  The Triduum has a lot of silence.) and returned a moment later in different vestments (the Triduum has a lot of costume changes, too): where they had been fully vested in white, now they were vested in violet - stoles for the priest and deacon, and maniple for the subdeacon.  The three of them (assisted a bit by the servers, but they mostly only moved flowers) stripped the altar.

When I say they stripped the altar, I mean that it had looked like a pretty normal feast day altar, but by the time they were done with it, gone were the flowers, the altar cloths, the candles - even the tabernacle veil!  There was just the stark wood of the altar, with the unveiled open tabernacle.  Such a difference!  And so powerful, to watch the priests do this before our very eyes.  There was a prescribed hymn for the schola to chant (Ps 21/22, I believe), and when the clergy were done, they sang the closing antiphon again and processed out in silence (and then there was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the altar of repose 'till midnight).  It was really a stunning end to things.

* * *

Unfortunately, it's time for bed, so I won't get to fill you in on the rest just yet.  I look forward to writing the rest of my observations, and to some dialogue.  To my knowledge, none of my readers have experienced a traditional Triduum, but most of you have been to traditional Masses.  I hope my observations are helpful / interesting to you.

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