Saturday, March 22, 2008


The second part of Holy Week is a season unto itself, the Triduum, the three days. These three days merge into one whole, the final moments of Christ’s earthly life, his farewell, passion, death and his defeat of death.

These are unique days and situations. Thursday one mass is said in the evening*, and it does not end until the vigil mass of Sunday is ended. Holy Thursday, the Sacrament is taken in procession to the altar and tabernacle of reposition. The Mandatum of the washing of feet occurs, before the Eucharist, hence, the anglicised, “Maundy”.

Unlike the manner familiar for many protestants, the church is used each daily for communal celebration. Of the more than 360 days of the year, only on two is there no mass proper: Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Good Friday is the most solemn and sad day of the year. It is also busy. There is a liturgy, now again, since 1955, in the afternoon. It had been for centuries in the morning. On Passion Sunday, in the old rite, the Passion according to Matthew is the Gospel read; in the new rite, a three year cycle has the Synoptic Gospels read successively. On Good Friday, the Passion according to John is the Gospel in both rites. In the new rite, a general distribution of the pre-sanctified Eucharist is done. In addition, there are many popular devotions that can be done, some were done in the old Tre Ore service: the stations of the cross, the seven last words of Christ, hymns and prayers. As with popular devotions, they differ, from place to place and parish to parish, and since are not mandated or regularised.

There is often music set to the Seven Words. James MacMillan composed for them in 1993. Last year, he did music for Tenebrae. Tenebrae is a service of penitential psalms and the Lamentations of Jeremias. Tenebrae is a service of darkness, symbolically only the Light of Christendures, it is of the same solemn sadness, traditionally the evening office of Wednesday in Holy Week, but now more mobile.

Special songs of these days include: Stabat Mater Dolorosa, Pange Lingua Gloriosi, Ubi Caritas, O Sacred Head Surrounded, Anima Christi, Vexilla Regis, All Glory Laud and Honor, Behold the Wood of the Cross. The negro spiritual, Were You There has been adopted as well as adaptations of the penitential psalms.

Holy Saturday has no service.‡ We wait by the tomb in shock and sadness. We defer to the hebrew reckoning of days, with the next day beginning at sunfall. With the vigil mass of Resurrection Sunday, the Paschal (Easter) season begins. It has been taken that Christ's body lay 40 hours in the tomb, there is a devotion commemorating this. Christ went to harrow hell and preach the gospel there to the righteous dead.

With the Easter Fire, we enter the church, with the Gloria and the sounding of bells is signified the empty tomb, the fallen shroud, and the Resurrection of the Body, and the defeat of Death. The Mass begun with the Last Supper is now complete. There are so many elements involved, and each needs to be appreciated by themselves, here, above, is only a summation.

Now, 2008 had its interesting calendraic anomalies. Good Friday was the day of the full moon, Holy Thursday was the vernal equinox, because of this, Easter came quite early. Holy Week and the Easter Octave clears the calendar of saints days, only a few celebrations are transferred: Saint Joseph and the Annunciation, and a special transfer for Patrick in Ireland alone. Perhaps, the oddest pairing was the extreme solemnity of Good Friday being the same day as Purim in the jewish calendar, which is virtually a carnival day, which in certain incidents of the historical past has included some most unfortunate events.

Politically, other intrusions have tried to detract from the christian celebration and commemorations. Osama bin Laden has, ludicrously, accused the pope with planning war against mohammedanism. Some rabbis have objected to the little celebrated latin rite prayer for the conversion of jews. The BBC is running a series, concluding Easter Sunday, that rewrites the Passion to clear Judas and Caiaphas amongst other novelties. These are 2008’s distractions.
*A Chrism Mass is said in cathedral, but not always on Thursday. That mass ought to have all the priests in the diocese in attendance.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. --
John i. 4-5
in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum
et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebræ eam non conprehenderunt
‡Amongst the slavonic peoples, latin, byzantine and eastern orthodox, a basket of food is often blessed in church; the orthodox using the julian calendar, have a late Easter this year.

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