With this column I begin a 10-part series reflecting on the Opening Collects of the new translation of the Roman Missal.Holy Thursday: O God, who have called us to participate in the most sacred Supper, in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Good Friday: O God, who by the Passion of Christ your Son, our Lord, abolished the death inherited from ancient sin by every succeeding generation, grant that just as, being conformed to him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man of earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of heaven. Through Christ our Lord.
I often pray the liturgies of the Triduum with the same awkwardness with which these prayers are translated. My experience of our urban community teaches me that death and grace are a daily mix, intertwined in every person’s life. I fumble to find the conviction of faith in the middle of so many physical and emotional moments of turmoil that have not been resolved since the last time we celebrated the Triduum. I stumble over connecting simple bread and dirty feet and to uncover salvation amidst both of them. I long for a new image of humanity because now people are put down for being physically poor and emotionally ill. Our celebrations rouse within me a real desire for God in the heartache that keeps me at the altar all year long.
I hear God calling me to celebrate the sacred supper on Holy Thursday. I also hear the people who have given up on God because the banquet seems not to satisfy the need for shelter today or a substantial meal for their hunger this evening. I hear the intermingled issues of profound anger of people who have been handed over to the death of mental disease and long-term struggles with money. So many people have given up coming to the banquet because they do not see believers learning to stretch out their hands to wash dirty feet or to stretch out their imaginations that something more needs to be done beyond the sanctuary steps.
On Holy Thursday, I hold the banquet menu in my hands. I also caress in my consecrated hands the gnarly, odorous feet unveiled in our three aisles of the chapel. I hold within my heart the profound hunger of people to make ends meet as well as their isolation and loneliness of their circumstances. The banquet of bread and wine and the foot washing both break down many barriers that continue all year long. Many people do not feel loved by God because of their eternal despair and many people do not feel loved by the community because suffering is so difficult to pay attention to at length. I hold feet and food and rest in the true sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
On Good Friday, I lay before the people on the concrete floor seduced by God. I am often so unwilling to allow this posture to form the rest of my ministry, yet I surrender again to God. Over the course of the year I tire of such profound suffering. I wait for new life in all the death that surrounds me. I grow short-tempered and want to get up and walk away many times during the year when Christ’s path of passion overwhelms my heart and perspective. On Good Friday, I wait to pray this collect because I know my ancient sin has been forgiven in Christ’s death. I live every day the sacrifice but I do not always feel it when I am lying on the concrete floor beginning the Good Friday liturgy. I wait in the center of poverty, neglect and addictions to experience the new image of heaven here, now on earth.
These collects are heard and lived beyond my lips. These sacred prayers are not only the staged lines of the priest but sum up the internal prayer of the people. The silent hearts of the faithful are brought to this verbal prayer. The priest is responsible for articulating this new translation but is also responsible for knowing the depth of this silent prayer among the people. The priest needs to understand deeply the sufferings and hardships that are going on in the pews and in the daily lives of people who worship. In order for the collect prayers to be claimed by the people, the priest needs to enter into the very reason why people come to the Eucharist in the first place. The priest is invited to pray and serve with dignity and love.
The Triduum is the high point of the liturgical year celebrating Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We are entrusted with this mystery, not only during the Holy Week schedule, but also in our lives every day. This banquet of love draws us into charity and the work of genuine justice. These prayers cannot be left out from our Holy Week planning nor can they be tossed aside because the translation seems awkward and clumsy. The collects outline the sacred rituals that will follow within the liturgy especially during the Triduum. These texts are for all of us who seek new life amid the pain and frustrations of people’s lives. These opening prayers remind us of what we celebrate and invite us to live what we receive, love itself.