Holy Week is an Invitation
There are some books that you can read and by reading them you can figure out what we are doing ceremonially at Saint Mary’s these days. However, there are a very few things that are now done at Saint Mary’s because I believe they should be done. Almost all of these have to do with the celebration of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. I want to try to say something about them, but what I really want to do is to invite you to come to participate, not to observe.
Shortly after I became rector of a parish for the first time, a colleague of mine, the Reverend Jeffrey Lee, now rector of Saint Thomas Church, Medina, Washington (who will be our preacher on the patronal feast, December 8, 2003) wondered aloud over coffee what it would be like if the people took the role of Jesus during the reading of the Passion in Holy Week. New rectors are allowed a very few ideas and this is one that I immediately decided to try.
Current Roman Catholic practice is that a priest “if possible” takes the role of Jesus. This is what I had always known as an Episcopalian too wherever the Passion was read in parts on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The people always took the part of the crowd. From the first time we tried it in 1989 in Michigan City I knew Father Lee’s insight was absolutely right. The liturgy of Holy Week, after all, is about what God has done in our lives and wants to do in the lives of all people. God has called us and made us to be the Body of Christ.
Saint Paul speaks of our union with Christ in his death through our baptisms. This has already happened for the assembly. We cannot be Peter. We cannot be Pilate. We cannot be the soldiers who nail Jesus to the cross. We are the Body of Christ. On that Palm Sunday in 1989 I was the narrator for the Passion. I did this from the pulpit. When it was finished, as I invited the assembly to sit for the sermon, I could see in their eyes that God was speaking to us in a new and deeper way. Other innovations followed – the two principal ones being the way we observed the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday and the way we did the veneration of the cross on Good Friday.
In both cases, the current ceremonial of the Roman Catholic Church is caught up with late medieval theology of the parish priest being Jesus Christ for everyone else. The Episcopal Church does not even give directions for washing feet or venerating a cross in its service books beyond authorizing them. Episcopal parishes that observe these rites tend to copy Roman Catholic models. I introduced here what we did in Michigan City, every member of the assembly was invited to come to the front of the church to sit to have his or her feet washed and then kneel to wash the feet of the next person. Simple enough and powerful. The Biblical instructions for the rite could not be more clear,
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17)
On Good Friday, after a crucifix is brought into the church in solemn procession, members of the assembly are invited to come forward two by two to kiss the cross and, here’s the innovation, they hold the cross for the next two persons.
Some people will always think that the ceremonies of Holy Week and the Triduum are unnecessary. Some people will decide that Jesus certainly doesn’t expect them to have their feet washed or to touch anyone else’s feet. I suspect the spiritual obstacles to participating in the rites arise from years of formation based on the idea that the Christian faith is normatively personal and private instead of public and communal. This individualized and personal religious experience has marked Western Christianity since the Middle Ages. In the end, it is a very unnecessary and very lonely journey.
I often say that Saint Mary’s is a Full Gospel Episcopal Church. Someone recently remarked to me that we don’t have snake handling at Saint Mary’s. My response, with a smile, was that I was working on it. If you and I come to the rites of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum with an open heart I think you and I will be blessed by the work of the Lord in our lives in this place. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Isaura and Margaret who are hospitalized, and for Peter, Loretta, Eva, Nicholas, Bart, Brett, Nora, Nicole, Jack, Thomas, Sarah, Grover, Annie, Patricia, Paul, Robert, Gloria, Jerri, Margaret, Marion, Olga, Rick, Charles, priest, and Paul, bishop, for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Timothy, Jonathan, Patrick, Edward, Keith, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Mark, Ned, Timothy, David, John and Colin and for the repose of the soul of Brendan and Walter, bishop . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . April 8: 1964 Grieg Tabor, priest and rector; 1996: Donald L. Garfield, priest and rector; April 10: 1993 Edna Isabelle Matthews Craig; April 12: 1975 Violet Carolyn Cadney.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Retired Bishop Suffragan of New York Walter Dennis died Sunday, March 30. The Memorial Service for retired Bishop Suffragan Walter Dennis will be held at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on Wednesday, April 9 at 10:30 AM. Please pray for Walter, bishop, his family, and all who mourn.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:11-16, Hebrews 5:1-10, John 12:20-33 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, April 5, by Father Weiler, and on Saturday, April 12, by Father Gerth . . .. The faithful are reminded that the weekdays of Lent are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. The Fridays of Lent are also days of abstinence from meats.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This Sunday at the Solemn Mass, the setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa Sancti Joannis by Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) and the motet at Communion is O vos omnes by Juan Esquivel (c. 1563-after 1613). Fux was a prominent Austrian church musician, composer and theorist, and many of his sacred works, such as this Mass setting, show the influence of traditional polyphony on his music. On Palm Sunday, April 13, we will have twice as many brass as we have used in the past to accompany our outdoor procession. Eight brass players will accompany us, and the added volume will better support the singing of the assembly. The setting of the Mass that morning is Missa ‘In die tribulationis’ by McNeil Robinson (b. 1943). Robinson, former organist and music director of Saint Mary’s, wrote this setting for use on Palm Sunday here, and it is astonishing how well it suits the acoustics of our church and the liturgical character of the day.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Help is needed this Saturday, April 5, beginning at 10:00 AM, as members of Saint Vincent’s Guild (and all others who are interested) will be polishing brass, cleaning, and doing other projects to prepare for Holy Week . . . Father Weiler is guest preacher at Evensong at Saint John’s Church, New Haven on Wednesday, April 9 . . . Attendance last Sunday 275.
MAUNDY THURSDAY WATCH . . . At the end of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, April 17, the Blessed Sacrament is reposed in the Mercy Chapel. A Watch is kept through the night. A security guard will be on duty inside the church, to help with concerns for safety during the night. To sign up for an hour or another period of time, please see the poster in Saint Joseph’s Hall or e-mail mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Monday Weekday of Lent
Tuesday Weekday of Lent
Wednesday Weekday of Lent
Thursday Weekday of Lent
Friday Weekday of Lent Lenten Abstinence
Saturday Weekday of Lent
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Matthew Weiler, curate, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assistant,
The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priest,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, The Reverend Robert Rhodes, assisting deacons,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.