This week has been the best Holy Week I've ever had.
In some ways my statement is easy to support. For example: I had never even heard the word "Triduum" (much less knew how to pronounce it correctly) until I stepped foot on my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville, nearly 5 years ago. While at FUS I was challenged to enter into all of Holy Week, not just Holy Thursday and Good Friday. I learned that there is a special Chrism mass on Monday of Holy Week to bless all of the holy oils. I also experienced my very first Easter Vigil mass at FUS in 2005 - one of the most moving and joyful masses I've been to. I could hear the angels singing and praising God with us during the baptisms.
The reason I claim that this week has been my best Holy Week, and not the one 3 years ago, is because I've finally succeeded in the challenge issued to me at FUS. I've fully entered into the prayer and anticipation of Holy Week. It started with cleaning my house and clearing my mind last weekend. Then I decided to go to mass after work each day this week (which feels like a big sacrifice of my time, considering that I work until 5pm each day). Due to the good advice of two friends, I also cut out watching any TV or movies until Easter. Finally, I set aside all of my work and cares of the week to simply pray with the church from Holy Thursday evening through Good Friday evening. As Ryan put it, "It's hard work praying all day long!"
Ryan and I celebrated mass with our parish on Holy Thursday. I've had a really difficult time feeling like a member of our parish in the two years we've been at St. Pius X. I grew up in a town where there is only one Catholic church, so you pretty much know everyone in town who is Catholic. The really nice aspect of my hometown is how the church feels like an extended family. I've spend the ages of 2 to 22 with the same Catholic families - I knew my parents' friends and grew up with their kids my own age. I consider some of the families like second parents - they know me as well as my own mother and father know me. All the kids started out in grade school together, and now we are all getting married and branching out. But when I go home, it's always so familiar and comfortable to me. I still know everyone at the church, and the families I grew up with remain close friends.
St. Pius X is one of the largest churches in the area. Notice how I said "one of." That's right - there are many Catholic churches in my area. It's hard to get to know people at my new church. I didn't grow up there, I don't belong to any of the ministries yet, and I am not sure where to get started. It's difficult for me to put myself out there and explain to my new church why I am someone they would like for a certain ministry. I grew up being grandfathered into ministries - the adults knew my potential as a kid and invited me into ministries as I turned the appropriate ages. It's almost as though I have to market myself at St. Pius to get into the community. Somehow, that feels so odd.
My disconnected feelings are what led me to go on the Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat a month ago. Ryan also went on the men's retreat last week. My basic goal was to meet women at the parish and start making connections within the community. I can't wait around to have kids make the connections for me!
So, back to Holy Thursday. The church was busting at the seams crowded. At St. Pius most families pick a Sunday mass time (7:00, 8:45, 10:30, 12:15, or 5:30pm) and stick with it each Sunday. Ryan and I tend to be 12:15ers - it's late enough to sleep in without actually cutting into our evening. Plus, we are always late to the 10:30am. The thing with Holy Thursday, however, is that all the families from different mass times come together into one mass. They have to! In looking around the church Thursday evening I began to notice women from my CRHP retreat. Sweet! I knew people at this mass!
After mass, Ryan and I stayed for Confession and Night Prayer. During the Triduum St. Pius keeps the church open 24 hours for their "Pascal Watch." It's a wonderful time of extra prayer just before Easter. The priests really encourage the parish to embrace the solemnity of the Triduum. Ryan and I embraced it all right - we didn't leave until after 11pm! It was so peaceful. I love being in a dark church at night, lit only by candles.
Although I really want to have a baby, there are some perks to being married without children. One perk is that Ryan and I are able to spend as much time in prayer and at church as we want. We have a certain amount of freedom this year that won't be possible with small children. I guess you could say that we are taking the opportunity for excessive prayer while it still exists!
This year we decided to go to the Notre Dame Basilica Good Friday service. I had heard that the liturgical choir is beyond fantastic, so it was one of my goals to hear them during our time in grad school. The service began at 3:00pm, so we decided to arrive at 2:00pm to snag good seats. Boy were we surprised to find the church totally full an hour before the service began. Luckily, some friends of ours saved us spot in the back of the church, right in front of one of the doors. I found it particularly fitting that we should experience an icy blast (that's right, our snow storm arrived right on time with the first day of spring) each time the door opened. It gave me a sacrificial mindset, to say the least.
Despite the small inconveniences, the Good Friday service at ND was incredible. The liturgical choir lived up to all praise bestowed upon it. They sang everything a cappella in four part harmonies - including the Gospel reading. I brings a new meaning to the Gospel when you hear the choir's chant "Crucify him!" resounding from the huge basilica ceiling. They also sang the heavenly Reproaches during our Veneration of the Cross. Again, how can you remain unmoved by the weight of your sin when expressed so vibrantly from above?
The rest of the evening Ryan and I spent with another ND couple, Steve and Meta, back at St. Pius for the Stations of the Cross and Taize prayer. I love Taize because it incorporates my two favorite types of prayer - singing and meditation. The basic premise is to repeatedly sing or chant a short verse while you meditate. I find that the repetition allows me to meditate because I eventually stop thinking about the mechanics of singing and just calm myself before the Lord. It removes distraction from my mind (because part of my mind is focused on singing) and allows my soul the freedom to experience God's presence.
Friday night at Pius was far less crowded than Thursday night. Even so, I again noticed some of the women from my CRHP retreat. I am finally beginning to feel a connection to my new parish. I almost like it better when there is less of a crowd in the church. I guess the task of getting to know people seems smaller or something. It gave me such a peace of mind knowing that Ryan and I are finally setting down some roots, that we aren't just floating through the parish by ourselves anymore.
At this point in the Triduum I am very much at peace. I understand in a new way the importance of Holy Saturday. It's a waiting day - God is asking us to trust in him, to be patient, and to hope that Easter Sunday will arrive. It's kind of exciting, in a way. Not in the same way that Christmas Eve is exciting, but in a quieter sort of way. I can't spend my entire day in prayer like yesterday (laundry needs to be washed again, errands to run - life goes on!), but I can go about my day with a peaceful and expectant soul. Soon we will be at the ND Easter Vigil, celebrating with our brand new members of the Catholic church. I may not know those who are going to be baptized tonight, but I've had several dear friends come into the Church on previous Easter Vigils. I know the joy and excitement my friends experienced, and so I gladly share in the celebrations for others.
It's been such a good Holy Week. Approaching the end of this week, I am definitely ready for Easter. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!