Brief explanation of days, if needed… Palm Sunday is Jesus’s triumphant return when the crowds greeted him with palm fronds. Passover is the Jewish celebration of the angel of death passing over their homes in Egypt. Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday is the last supper. Good Friday is the day He was crucified. Easter is the day He rose. I missed Palm Sunday due to back trouble. I missed the Seder Passover meal on Wednesday because I had too much regular homework, but that was an optional event and not a Day of Obligation. I attended the Triduum (Thur/Fri/Saturday Easter Vigil).
Holy Thursday was amazing. They recreate Jesus’s washing of the disciples’ feet, so 12 people were picked for the honor. I recognized a few of them from teaching our RCIA classes, the Lectionary, Eucharist – so I’m guessing the honor was also a recognition of what people do for the church. Father Cayer gave an amazing homily about feet. I wish I had it on tape, because he took lowly feet to an astounding place that actually made me cry. (The historical significance of washing feet back in Jesus’s days; the paths various feet have walked; are my feet worthy to sit under God’s table for dinner/Eucharist, etc. It was amazing.) Already my memories are fading, but I think I remember the church itself being fairly colorful – I think the priests and altar were in pink and the choir music was fairly upbeat (not up to normal tempo when we aren’t in Lent, but still not a dirge). They have to consecrate enough Host for both Thursday and Friday mass. When the mass ended instead of our usual dismissal, there was a veneration of the Host and the entire church body ceremonially walked the Host from the church to its home in another building while we all sang a capella. It was quite emotional. It was very different from our usual mass, and I felt different afterwards.
Good Friday was awesome, in the ancient sense of the word. I was a little scared by it, but in a good way. I was awed. There were signs on the door asking us to be quiet when we entered/left – none of the usual premass murmurings, no Holy Water in the baptismal font or any of the usual containers, and no covering on the altar. It felt very different and strange. The choir songs were also much more subdued, even for Lent. The freakiest part was Veneration of the Cross. The priests and deacon took turns holding up a heavy crucifix (cross w/Jesus) while we all processed forward to kiss it. It was so quiet. I had no idea what to do; this wasn’t covered in catechism. I watched closely so that I could mimic everyone else. When it was my turn, it was somehow stunned to see the nails in His feet, so I was thrown and paused. I ended up kissing right on a nail. That was a particularly powerful moment for me. After mass we left the church in silence, no songs. I was not only struck by how different it was from the normal mass, I was struck by how different it was even from the day before. It *definitely* made me think less about chocolate bunnies and dying eggs.
Saturday morning we had a practice session for the Easter Vigil and thank goodness everyone was excited and light hearted. It was a really fun morning. Tons of gifts and hugs were exchanged (link). We were totally lost and giggling as we went through the motions following Father Cayer’s orders on where to stand and what to say. At one point Father Cayer made like he was going to drown Patrick in the baptismal font and someone yelled out “I’ll give you $50 to do it!” When we were figuring out where to sit (those being baptized on one row, those joining from other churches like me over here, those who were baptized Catholic but never confirmed over here, etc.) Kim got moved to sit beside Patrick. She asked if that was her Penance from confession. More giggles. Lots of laughter, lots of somewhat questionable comments/suggestions, etc.
Easter Vigil was … I don’t have words. If you’ve never been to one I will try to describe it. They light a kind of bonfire in the front of the church and bless the fire. The priest ceremonially lights a giant candle that represents Jesus’s light in the world. It is marked with symbols (including nails for His wounds, the current year). Everyone has little candles and we walk into the church in darkness. The priests/deacons/altar servers march in, pausing every so often to light the candles of those sitting on the edges of the pews with the Paschal candle. That light gets passed from person to person so that soon everyone in the church is holding a lit candle, spreading the light of Christ. The priest uses the Paschal candle to bless the water in the baptismal font. There are about five bible readings instead of three, there are more songs sung. The lights don’t get turned on until we get to the New Testament readings, so for the longest time everything is done by candlelight. Of course the baptism, proclamation, confirmations are a part of the ceremony. Those baptized get a special candle which is lit from the giant candle and they make their way around the church relighting everyone’s candle to symbolize a renewal of our own baptisms. The priests also go around with Holy Water to bless everyone/renew baptism while the altar servers finally refill the normal receptacles by all the exits and we once again have access to Holy Water. The entire mass is fascinating on a symbolic level, I think. On a personal level… it was so exciting seeing the people getting baptized after having had the catechism classes together for the past seven months. Lots of smiles and giggles and thumbs up. Father Cayer didn’t drown Patrick, but when he tried to pour water on Kim the first time he did almost drown her. He actually giggled and spoofed his line (“I baptize you in the name…”) by saying “I’m *trying* to baptize you in the name…” and the entire church laughed. Then it was my group’s turn to stand before the church and swear we wanted to be Catholic. Then the entire class, about 15 of us plus our sponsors, had to come forward and be confirmed. We got introduced by our saint’s names, oil rubbed on our foreheads in the shape of a cross, and blessed. It was so cool. Then we had to turn around and face the congregation while they applauded. I could see my parents and friends smiling and waving at me. Apparently I had a stupidly huge smile on my face and a giant shiny forehead. The other amazing part of the mass for me was getting to fully participate in the Eucharist for the first time. I was so terrified I was going to drop something that it was kind of a blur! I am so glad I forced myself during Lent to go forward for blessings so at least I was used walking, because I think I would have forgotten how to do even that. After the mass ended we went around doing another set of hugs and taking pictures. Toaster says I might not like them because the oil made us all super reflective! LOL! Father Cayer actually said to me in a stunned voice “you are beaming!” and he seemed proud of me, which was nice. It meant so much to have my parents/Monkeys and Charity/Steve and Toaster/parents there. I already wrote about what they did for me in an earlier post, but they are all beyond wonderful people and I cherish them. We didn’t get home until nearly midnight, so their giving up that much of their time for me means a lot.
It was exhausting, but I think going to all three nights gives Easter a much more powerful impact than just the Vigil. I am excited about next year; after having been through it once I will know better what to do, although a first time experience is undeniably special. Next year I hope to make the Seder dinner and Palm Sunday, so I’ll still have a few first time moments. I’m hoping I will be a little more relaxed not having to stand up in front of anyone or attend practice sessions – except there is the possibility I’ll be joining the choir. If so, I’ll be as busy next year as I was this year. I don’t know how Toaster managed to do both.