A few weeks ago as we were preparing for Holy Week, I was looking forward to the wonderful celebrations that take place especially during the Sacred Triduum. Then the unexpected happened. I became ill earlier in the week and ended up with a diagnosis of acute bronchitis. This left me unable to participate in any of the Triduum and also Mass on Easter Sunday. It was the first time since my youth that I had not been able to be a part of this most sacred week in our Church's liturgical year.
It got me thinking back to the Holy Week celebrations when I was a young boy and how much has changed in our liturgy since then. Prior to the early 1950s when Pope Pius XII began a renewal of the liturgy, the Triduum celebrations were held in the morning. On Holy Thursday, we would have Mass followed by the procession taking the Eucharist to its altar of repose in another part of the church building. It was the custom then for people to visit various churches during Holy Thursday to adore the Eucharist as it reposed in a variety of settings almost all of which were highly decorated (it almost seemed like a competition between churches to see which repository was the most beautifully decorated).
On Good Friday we would celebrate the Mass of the Presanctified. Eucharist that had been consecrated at the Mass on Holy Thursday would be used to distribute Communion to the faithful. The priest would wear black vestments as a reminder of the death of Christ. Other ceremonies - which remain to this day - included the veneration of the Cross and special prayers of intercession. Now we usually celebrate the Lord's Passion sometime during the afternoon or early evening with the celebrants now wearing red vestments.
Then on Holy Saturday morning, we would gather for the Holy Saturday celebration which would include the lighting of the Paschal Candle - a symbol of the risen Christ. We would then proclaim the "alleluia" which had been silent since the beginning of Lent. We would go home after the service and continue to observe the Lenten fast until noontime. Now, of course, we know that Lent officially ends with the stroke of midnight at the beginning of Holy Thursday as we begin the solemn remembrance of the Lord's Last Supper, death and resurrection.
The Easter Vigil, as now celebrated, is the highpoint of the Church's liturgical year. It must not begin until after darkness has set in and we now refer to it as the Night Watch of the Resurrection. It is the time when those desiring admittance to our Catholic Christian community receive the sacraments of initiation - baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist. It is my favorite liturgy of the entire Church year.
Needless to say I was quite disappointed not to be able to be among those who celebrated. I had been scheduled to preach at the Holy Thursday liturgy at the parish of my former pastor; since my voice was more like the squeak of a mouse, I had to decline that opportunity. I was also looking forward to proclaiming the Exultet, the great Easter proclamation (even using the new translation in the Roman Missal), and had to forego that opportunity as well. I was also missing out on the reception of several people into our parish community through the sacraments of initiation (people that I had helped prepare for this special time). But as it has been often said: When we make plans, God laughs.
While I was not able to celebrate the great mysteries this year, I am still full of hope that comes with the belief in the resurrection of Jesus who brought new life to the world. I wish all my readers a most blessed Easter season - and I hope to be back celebrating again next year.