Originally published by GIA Quarterly, Winter 2012
– PDF version –
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Every month a group of people from the Portland area gathers at our parish for a day of retreat concerning the issues of urban poverty. After lunch we walk the neighborhood speaking about the agencies that befriend people in poverty. We explore the conflicts with the city and the police. We sort out people’s attitudes about other people who are surviving poverty. We pray in front of the nonprofit groups that were started by Catholic groups. The procession becomes a stational liturgy, walking from building to building, a pilgrimage of how the Church has helped people overcome issues of addictions, hunger and the ongoing challenges of mental illness.
Before one of our tours, after the noon Mass, one of our longtime parishioners sat on a chair outside of our chapel and chanted, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He yelled it over and over again. His singing stunned the group of retreatants. They realized the procession of Christ into Jerusalem is still going on. We did not wave palms but had conversations of about neglect, poverty, racial divides, the lack of healthcare and the horrific effects of long-term mental illness. The group realized on that Friday afternoon that Holy Week would begin for them on that very afternoon in November.
As you prepare the liturgy for Palm Sunday, remember the processions of life and death. Remember the gurney that carried the young father from an accident scene. Reflect on the victims of the natural disasters that claim people in your area of the country. Sort out how people are trying to make ends meet, running from job to job in order to raise a family. Remember the young, single mother crying out in the night for her sick child as she races to the hospital. Remember the processions of people walking for issues of cancer and Alzheimer’s, running races for cures, change of attitudes and caring banners to raise consciousness about human dignity. Listen to the Psalm over and over from the cry of people in poverty, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Last year one of our parishioners told the story of the emotional abuse he experienced from his father. We were gathered as lectors and Eucharistic ministers to reflect on the Triduum. He told us that his father would not allow him and his sisters to run around the house with bare feet. They grew up ashamed of their feet. The father would tell the children how ugly, not only their feet were, but also how ugly they were. When our parishioner decided to become Catholic as an adult, he was so nervous that he would be asked to have his feet washed in public on Holy Thursday. Without realizing his story, the priest at the parish he had attended had asked him to have his feet washed during the Triduum before being initiated into the Church.
He told us that he presented his feet reluctantly and fearfully before the priest and the congregation on Holy Thursday. He told us with tears in his eyes that the priest washed away more than his foot odor. The act of extending his feet, the vulnerability of his naked foot, began a healing process with his past and gave him courage to extend his love and his life beyond his own hurt and even selfishness. That gesture of love changed his past and opened a new life of service for a man who had been ashamed of his body as well as his voice in the world.
Prepare the liturgy of Holy Thursday with the assurance that washing feet extends the Eucharist far out the doors of the church. We claim Christ who offered us bread to eat and wine to drink and the gesture that challenges us to love beyond our own lives. The goal of the Eucharist is not just to adore the power of God’s presence, but also to take that love into the lives of those who are starving for relationship, communion and justice. Remember that to extend our feet to the community is a vulnerable posture. We extend not only our feet but also the source of all life, the Eucharist of Christ Jesus.
Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord
Last year I gathered a group of women to process with me down the aisle to lift high the cross for veneration. We gathered a widow and a volunteer from our hospitality center. We gathered a woman who earned a Masters of Divinity degree and a woman who is wheelchair-bound because of a car accident. We gathered a pious woman wearing a Mantilla and an elderly woman with severe mental illness. We limped, walked, strode and wheeled ourselves up the aisle. The images of these women represented so many issues of our community and neighborhood. I lifted high the cross, but the reality of suffering was on the faces of these holy women representing so many other people surviving daily struggles.
We all journey to the cross, because we all live the reality of suffering every day. The cross that is presented in the liturgy reminds us that we live facing suffering and death. We grieve for our friends and relatives. We grieve the losses of our dreams. We let go of jobs, financial security and the ideas of how we wanted to live our lives. The cross is ever in our midst and the procession to reverence the cross reminds us of all of life.
Prepare the liturgy with a deeper understanding of what you bring to the wood of the cross. Remember your suffering, your misunderstandings that have yet to be resolved or mended. The cross in every community must be unveiled, reverenced and kissed with honesty about all the issues that people face. No person is left out of life’s suffering and no person is left out of the procession to touch and kiss, to kneel and adore, to love and cherish the wood of the Crucified. We all walk together toward the suffering Christ so to rise with him in resurrection.
At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night
Years ago, a young student prepared for full initiation into the Church. She was rather short and wore her hair pulled tightly back into a bun. Her blouses were always buttoned up including the top button and her skirts were long, well below her knees. She attended sessions of preparation throughout the year, her brow furrowed with intensity and earnestness. However, on the night of her baptism, in the well-lighted church, she appeared with her hair hanging down on her shoulders. She wore all white and her smile replaced the furrows on her brow. She was stunning. Everyone who knew her could only smile with delight. When I poured the waters of new life on her head, she calmed down and breathed deeply. She woke up from her worry. She was awakened to a new life within her and her external appearance became as dazzling as light.
The sacraments of initiation are also sacraments of change and gladness. We prepare people to fully live the gospel stories, images and values. We delight when people turn from drugs and alcohol, finally reconcile with family and find adequate employment. We are beside ourselves when people find a home within the sacraments of the Church. We are transformed into believers when people take hold of the grace offered them. We are spellbound when their courage takes them to the font, when mystery is poured on their heads and runs down their cheeks and when hope nudges them to the altar table.
Prepare the Easter Vigil with the assurance that liturgy is about people. The grace of the night is all we need. This grace is fuel for integrity and beauty within the liturgy. Prepare the Vigil as if your faith depends upon it. Believe in what you are organizing and singing about. The liturgy consumes the wayward into belief, the lonely into communion, the worried into grace filled and beautiful lives.