By Sister Regina Siegfried, ASC
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, those high holy days of the Catholic Church, are fast approaching. Depending on the congregation and liturgy, they can be either drab and boring or vibrant with life and drama and able to rivet the worshippers caught up in the beauty of the rituals. The Catholic Church is one of rituals and ceremonies that we often take for granted and can snooze through. But the rites of Holy Week break the pattern and can jolt us into an awareness of the Divine always present in our midst.
St. Vincent De Paul, my parish in St. Louis, celebrates each day with care, vitality, and profound reverence. We gather on Holy Thursday night to wash each other’s feet, a symbol of our concern and service to one another. Men, women, and children smile into one another’s eyes and say thank you for this act of tender concern.
The church overflows with the living faith of our congregation as we process with the Blessed Sacrament around the church and end in the hall where we will have just completed serving a meal to our guests who are homeless and hungry. The serving table altar mirrors the marble altar in the church, and the liturgy of the Eucharist becomes one with the liturgy enacted in the hall.
On Good Friday, we carry our burdens to the foot of the cross that we venerate with respect. I pray for each member of the congregation as he or she finds his or her way up the aisle to lay their burdens down. We are indeed the “church of the broken toys.” Holy Saturday is our parish at its best, participating in the lighting of the Easter fire, delighting in the Exultet, listening to all seven readings, singing songs, and rejoicing with catechumens and candidates who bravely and freely join our flawed and grace-filled church.
The meaning of the rituals of these holy days is both complicated and self-evident if we pay attention to the flow of the words, music, actions, and symbols. The faith of the congregation joins each person into a graced union that transforms the normal and ordinary into holy ground sparkling with God’s presence and love. The presider, congregation, choir, and other ministers joined in the celebration of these holy rituals create a transcendent time out of ordinary time as we lift each other to a renewed awareness of God-with-us.
Easter is a verb. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminded us of this Paschal action when he wrote in “Wreck of the Deutschland,” “Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”