I have had the great privilege of attending some outstanding liturgies this week – the holiest week of our Church year. On Monday, there was a Lenten mass at our school to begin this special week. It was hosted by our precious first graders. They did the readings and gift bearing so well. At this wonderful age, they so want to please Jesus and love Him with an innocence and purity that is just awe-inspiring.
Then on Tuesday, I went with all of our seventh graders to the Archdiocesan Chrism Mass where the oils to be used in the sacraments are blessed and distributed to the head of each deanery for use in the individual parishes – a beautiful way of extending Christ’s healing to people throughout the city. This mass always brings a big smile to my face and makes my heart swell with gratitude. It begins with the procession of many of our archdiocesan priests. Seeing so many priests in one place come forward really makes me feel grateful for their lives of sacrifice, and how each brings Jesus to us in the Eucharist and in the sacraments. Witnessing their rededication to the holy priesthood is inspiring. It was sobering to see how many aging priests we have. The archbishop, however, announced that the Archdiocese of New Orleans currently has 35 seminarians. I’m excited about that!
Last night, I attended Holy Thursday services at my parish, Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville. It was the most moving, solemn, exquisite mass I think I’ve ever attended. Words cannot adequately describe -
Many leave the Catholic Church in search of “more exciting services” – looking for an appeal to the emotions – citing the predictability of the mass as “boring.” Last night was anything but boring. It was far more moving than any excellent preaching or holy rock concert could ever provide. Though the service lasted about two hours, the time flew by. It was as though what we participated in there nearly transcended time and space.
Prior to the mass, a harpist brought her strings to life, setting the stage for the solemn mass. In a dimly lit church, young men (many of whom were my students and former students – so proud!!) dressed in black tuxedos and bore glowing lanterns as they walked stoically up the center aisle. The lanterns were carefully placed to illuminate the altar. Young ladies wearing long, flowing, formal gowns, escorted by young men, presented the oils to be used in ministry throughout the year. Our pastor is well versed in scripture and Church history. He gave a fantastic homily about what actually takes place during each mass. He explained that during the sacrifice of the mass, heaven literally touches earth. We are made present at Calvary. We can be no closer to Jesus on this earth than when we are fully present at mass. What a tremendous gift!
After the homily, our priest donned an apron and stooped to wash the feet of twelve young men representing the apostles. Christ is the ultimate King, and the ultimate servant at the same time. He tells us that to be like Him, we must wash feet as well. To me, the sign of a great leader – be it pastor, principal, boss, president – is a person who would never ask you to do something that he/she is not willing to do. A great leader rolls up his/her sleeves and is not afraid to get dirty. Jesus shows us the way.
The music was exemplary. We had both a male and female accompanist whose voices were like those of angels. At the close of the mass, all of the candles on the altar were extinguished. Father asked everyone to follow in procession behind the Blessed Sacrament in silence to a separate place where Christ’s body would be in repose for adoration. I know that others were equally moved by the beauty of the service and the awareness that Christ was truly there with us, because people moved in complete reverence and silence. Luminaries lit the path between the church and place of repose.
It was as though people were literally being drawn by a powerful force to this place of adoration. There, the Body of Christ was carefully placed upon an ornate, Roman pedestal surrounded by red, flickering holy candles. There were also beautiful palm plants surrounding the place of honor. A white canopy edged with gold tassels encircled the Eucharist and hung from the high ceiling like a halo over this special place. Other than the soft light of the candles, the room was in total darkness. The sounds of Gregorian Chant filled the space. The Knights of Columbus in full, formal garb stood watch over the Blessed Sacrament, and went through a “changing of the guard” ceremony every half an hour.
After my experience with Jesus last night, I feel so grateful that He loves each and every one as though we were the only one. I felt so close to Him, and know that many others were feeling that as well. He ministers to each and every soul in such a personal way. All we have to do is give Him the time and undivided attention in order to do that.
Father has several seminarians take part in the liturgy last night. I felt so happy that these future priests were learning a most beautiful way of doing things – a Holy Week liturgy fit for a king – The King. Because of the care that is taken to make the mass so deliberate, so reverent – so incredibly beautiful, I have no doubt that our parish will produce many more religious vocations and much fruit for the Lord.
Jesus wants us to spend some time with Him on this most holy day, Good Friday. Turn off the television and radio. Take a walk, or go off to your room and shut the door. Offer Him some time, prayer, and attentiveness – and let Him share some of His experience of Calvary with you. It’s the mystery of our Redemption. Praise be to the Merciful King!