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Archive for the ‘Triduum’ Category

People often talk about the 21st century, particularly in America, as a time when capitalism, consumerism and advertising have run amok. And while they’re not wrong, it’s somewhat encouraging to discover that as it is now, so it has always been. It’s a difference in degree, not in kind, and it has its roots in the human tendency to focus more on individual needs and wants than on the common good. The source of this misdirection seems to lie in our forgetting that everything we have comes from a gracious God. When we believe that our riches lie in our own efforts, we lose the ground of our being.We worship the golden idol of our possessions, or we gnash our teeth over the possessions of others.

Today’s Gospel begins with a man asking Jesus to mediate between him and his brother over a family inheritance. And Jesus’ pointed comment goes to the heart of the issue: “one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Jesus directs his parable at those who “store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” And the preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds his listeners that striving and anxiety lead only to emptiness. The antidote? Remembering that it is God who “prospers the work of our hands,” (Psalm 90). And Jesus’ concern in the Gospel is that two brothers are feuding over an inheritance when they should be at peace with one another.

Our Scriptures call us back to our center, to the life-giving word of God that reminds us again and again that what matters is the we belong to God, not that we have a lot of stuff that belongs to us. We find our identity in our baptismal promises, not in our credit cards and bank accounts. When we are in right relationship with God, we will have the inner peace and security that makes reaching out to others a natural response to God’s gracious gifts.

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Sometimes when we put everything we have into anticipating a great event—planning, preparing, hoping, dreaming—the event itself can sometimes seem almost anticlimactic, as though it couldn’t live up to the hype. Brides and grooms have said this of their wedding days, when after months and months of planning every perfect detail, they have little recollection of the day itself. Easter can be a little bit like this, especially if we celebrate the great feasts of the Triduum, the three days before Easter. Holy Thursday with its commemoration of the Last Supper, Good Friday’s account of Jesus finest hour, reigning from the cross, and the Easter Vigil, recounting all of salvation history, culminating in Jesus’ great gift.

We know in our minds that we are celebrating the greatest single event in God’s covenant with his people, the triumph over death itself. But somehow we can’t wrap our understanding and emotions around something so intense, so unique, so utterly beyond our human experience. Ironically, this letdown is almost built into the Easter readings. At the heart of the Easter story is the empty tomb. The stories of the appearances will come later, unfolding the mystery of the resurrection. But the first message to the apostles is that the tomb is empty.

Somewhere in the darkness of our Easter Vigil, we must confront the empty tomb individually in fear and trembling. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb in the early hours of the morning. John and Peter go together to the tomb but each enters separately. We must do likewise. But our belief that the Christ has risen will draw us together once again into an experience of community, an experience of Church. Our response to our individual conversion is to gather with those who can share that experience and then together go out to tell our story of the Christ.

Throughout the Gospels, the apostles appear in shifting groups or more often as individuals, following Jesus and relying on his leadership to hold them together and settle their disputes. It is only the fear of the crucifixion and then confrontation of the empty tomb that gathers them together into a single group, relying on each other for protection, reassurance and support. The empty tomb compels them to rely on their faith in the stories Jesus told of the resurrection, stories they may not have heard or understood because of their individual preoccupation with success and advancement. Now they must rediscover his presence by retelling those stories and centering on him rather than on themselves. Alone none of them is able to fully comprehend the experience; together they discover new insights in a shared belief. From Easter to Pentecost, they are most often referred to as the Eleven, a sign that their identity is as a cohesive group rather than a collection of individuals. Any personal experience of the Risen Lord is marked by the command or the impulse to “go and tell the others.” Our vision of church today and into the future can take its form and character from this early community.

Just as a wedding day is followed by years of marriage, the day-to-day life of learning to live and love in a committed relationship, so Easter Sunday stretches first to the Easter Octave, then throughout the fifty days of the Easter season and into each expression of the paschal mystery in our weekly Eucharists and in our lives.

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I went to the Tenebrae service at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral last night. This has become my personal tradition for entering into the Triduum. I first experienced it back in the late 1980s at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, where it was sung after the Mass on the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The centerpiece of the service is the chanting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in this case in English, but each verse introduced by its proper Hebrew letter. These three sections were interspersed by congregational psalms (Pss 80, 69, 22, 4) classical motets (Poulenc, Victoria, Casals, Bruckner), the Bach passion chorale and scripture readings from Hebrews, Romans, the Gospels of Mark and John. The other piece I wait for each year is an exquisite performance of Allegri’s Miserere, complete with traditional countertenor.

What struck me this year is that this is a very theological reflection on the upcoming passion. Rooted in the prophets, in the world’s need for salvation, it offer some of the finest scriptural reflections on the fulfillment of the messianic promise. Even the reading from Mark is the gathering at Caesarea Philipi, when Jesus asks that question we each must answer: “Who do you say that I am?” The commemoration of Jesus’ last hours lies ahead; this service reminds me why that commemoration is important.

On a much more primal level, it’s an incredibly stirring ritual. Quiet, solemn, stripped to basics in many ways: a simple procession, music, scripture, candlelight. As the fifteen candles are quietly extinguished one at a time after each psalm or reading, the focus deepens. With the single candle burning in a completely dark cathedral, I find myself aware at a very deep level of the most basic struggle between the darkness of chaos and the light of Christ. The moment of being plunged into complete darkness (for the space of an Our Father) makes me realize like nothing else I’ve ever experienced what the darkness would be like without the Light that came into the world for our salvation.

Masterful ritual, indeed. This is not overheated, even maudlin emotional reflecting on a tragic death. This is the very core of our faith experience. As John puts it so well, “The light came into the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

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