I have been a Catholic all my life, and yet somehow Holy Week was not part of the landscape of my Catholicism growing up. Years later as an adult I was living in Northern Virginia and worshipping at a church out in a rural town northwest of Washington DC. The town was located in the rolling hills of the Catoctin – the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I have to admit I was probably tired from traveling, wanted a break from work, and it was a beautiful spring, so I took a week off for a “staycation.” I had always heard about the Holy Week celebrations and I thought “why not?” Perhaps not the most inspiring of stories, but the Holy Spirit can work with the smallest and weakest of our responses.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) was very moving. The priest’s homily focused on the model that Jesus gave us: humble service – and then it all came alive in the footwashing ceremony. That memory has stayed with me all these years.
The homily had prepared me to see the foot washing but I was not prepared for what transpired at the end. There was no end. While the Mass had begun in the usual way, there was no final blessing and dismissal. It all suddenly stopped. The priest removed the Eucharist from the tabernacle and processed away with it. I later understood it was to reserve it for adoration in another place in the church. Me? I just sat there, not sure if it was just time to go home, when the altar servers began to strip the altar and cover many of the decorative aspects of the church. I just sat there, betwixt-and-between, kind of lost as what to do next.
Nothing had prepared me for that feeling of being somewhat lost. In Scripture this is the point in which Jesus moves out of the Passover meal to the Garden of Gethsemane where he is taken captive by the religious and civil authorities – and the Apostles are lost, not knowing what to do next. That is what the moment felt like to me.
I came to the Good Friday celebration of the Lord’s Passion and felt like the Apostles. I wasn’t at the foot of the Cross, I observed from afar, not sure of what this moment meant, of what came next. I remember being struck with the sense of not just being lost, but that “we lost.” I wonder if that is what the Apostles thought: “He was the Messiah, the one to set us free – and now he had been crucified and has died….we lost and we are lost.”
And that was milieu of feelings, thoughts and senses that I brought to the glorious celebration of the Easter Vigil. …to be continued !!