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  • Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

Reflection on the Triduum & Easter



As we conclude the three holiest days of the year and begin the Easter Season, I thought it might be good to share my reflection on this year’s Triduum. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Triduum has been very different this year, however, the liturgical moments of the Triduum are deeply embedded in my bones. Not just as three days spent in church and in prayer, but they are times of memory … memories that all the more poignant this year because things are so different. There are memories of years past … awash in smells, words, tastes, sights, and feelings … memories of my childhood and growing in faith. Each Holy Week, I believe we are drawn out of our day-to-day and invited to pause and remember the Passion of Jesus, but also to remember and renew our own faith. Always during Holy Week, I remember my teachers of the faith, my parents, my Pastor, the catechists in Religious Education, and the parish community that I belonged to as a child. The Triduum places me in a sacred space that allows me to sharpen my memory and to love more deeply.


As I reflected on the Triduum over the past few days, three themes developed; hospitality, humility, and hope.


The Chrism Mass is usually held here in the Diocese of Camden on Tuesday of Holy Week. With COVID-19, it was canceled and will happen at some point in the future, but the memories of Holy Week always begin in earnest for me on Tuesday of Holy Week. As a first-year seminarian some 17 years ago, I remember my first Chrism Mass ... a packed church and many priests, deacons, seminarians, and people. It gave me a sense of hope to hear Bishop Galante and to hear the priests renew their promises to the Bishop and the Diocese. Seeing the oils blessed and distributed … the Church of Camden assembled in one place then the going forth to individual parishes … taking the hopes and promises to the people of the Diocese. I look forward to celebrating that once again with Bishop Sullivan just as soon as the restrictions of COVID-19 are lifted.


HOSPITALITY


“When Jesus had finished the meal He got up from the table and began to wash His disciples’ feet.”


Considering Holy Thursday, I can see the hospitality of Jesus and our friendship with Him. In a sense, we set the table and the story begins, we are always remembering and yet bring the story to our ears as if it were new … the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the washing of feet as Jesus did. Again, no washing of feet this year, but the custom of the washing of feet has been quite different in each of the parishes I’ve been assigned. As the ceremony is begun and completed, it is a simple act of sublime love that our culture does not understand. How profound to wash the feet of someone … what intimacy … what hospitality. Washing feet, Jesus takes the place of the servant and asks us to do the same. Over the years, I have become cognizant of His command as I have assisted during this Mass in various capacities and performed it myself for the first time in 2018. I have seen tenderness and love. I have seen Christ in the person washing the feet of another and I’ve seen Christ in the person whose feet were being washed. It has become my prayer that through this action during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper that we can see Jesus not just in our families and friends but in the other. Can we see Jesus in the homeless, the poor, the immigrant, the Jew, the Muslim, the African women dying of HIV/AIDS, or those different from us in any way?


Hospitality is not a word you hear much in church but how vital it is to the Christian message. On Holy Thursday, it is the essence of our liturgy. The setting of the table … in other words, the dressing of the Altar … the story being told … the bread broken for us, the Body of Christ, the deacon or altar server incensing and bowing before the community, acknowledging Christ in the assembly. That moment of Eucharist, of communion, how it mirrored the foot washing. Both extraordinary acts of selflessness, acts of love and service that Jesus calls us to be in the world. Jesus washes our feet and then pours out His Body for us.


His hospitality is given back as we venerate His body. Processing and praying in front of the Altar of Repose gives us an opportunity to return to Jesus all the love He showers on us. We carry His body through the church to the altar so carefully and reverently. We pray and stay with Him keeping vigil. We all were strengthened by our hospitality and the love Jesus gave this night.


HUMILITY


Good Friday always feels different from other days … feeling the hunger from the fast and noticing the starkness of the church. I immediately always noticed as I walked into the worship space of a church of Good Friday that the Vigil Light was gone. Again, different this year ... Jesus was there ... we weren't. The one constant in a Catholic church is the light marking the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The church was empty, empty of people ... much like my stomach. I recalled that as the service began, the priests and deacons prostrate themselves in front of the altar. As a Transitional Deacon in 2009 and as a relatively newly ordained priest in 2010, I remember feeling a vulnerability lying on the floor in front of everyone. I remembered feeling the same way celebrating the Triduum for the first time as a Pastor in the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel. As I looked back, I was remembering all of the vulnerable moments in my life and thinking about all of the vulnerable and despised people in the world who need my hospitality. Good Friday reminds me of the violence in our midst and how Jesus’ Passion is lived by so many everyday in our communities and beyond. As the worshipers would come to venerate the wood of the cross, I witness to their deep faith and I hope that the act of humility I saw in Jesus’ crucifixion and in the lives of those coming to the cross might help me to be more humble. I pray “please God help me to witness Your death in those around me and help me to stay at the foot of the cross and not run from You.” I pray that my own desires and ego would not get in the way of my witnessing to the Gospel and all its humility. Would the fact that we couldn't gather this year, refocus people on what happened today? I hope so.


In years past, on Good Friday evening, I’ve gone to various versions of the Living Stations of the Cross. While at Saint Peter’s in Merchantville, I got to participate … even if it was just as the narrator. When I’ve experienced them as an observer, so many images strike me. The violence of crucifixion, the love on the faces of the young people, the way those involved led us all in prayer. They were teaching us and helping us to remember the story, to witness the Passion again but with new eyes; eyes that turn to the cross, eyes that turn toward humility, eyes that help us to see the cross that our brothers and sisters carry each day. Eyes that help us see the cross as violence in its worst form, eyes that help us see this violence in our world today, eyes that help us know that the story does not end with the cross. Like the teens themselves, the cross will transform! I thought about the transformative power of the community to come together even in the dying of another and be Christ for and with those in need.


In years past, as I watched the young people, I was struck by how Jesus was humiliated and abused. This year, I considered all of our material comfort even in the midst of being isolated in our homes. I prayed the Way of the Cross with the reflections of Archbishop Ganwein, the Private Secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and then I watched the Passion of the Christ. I prayed that people will see the humiliation Jesus endured for us and I prayed to see Jesus in others around me. I hoped that the fire kindled in them will grow and they will live for God and for their neighbor.


HOPE


I usually wake up early on Holy Saturday morning. It was the same yesterday. The Blessing of the Easter baskets with the Easter foods and candies in many ways takes me back to growing up and being with my Dad and his mother at the Easter Vigil in Brockton, Pennsylvania. I remember going to my great-Aunt’s house (my maternal grandmother’s sister) and coloring Easter eggs with my cousins on Holy Saturday afternoon. A very different reality this year … no blessing of the Easter foods … but I did prepare all of them. This was the first time I did that since my Dad’s birthday on Easter Sunday in 2017 and his passing five (5) days later … memories …


Attending the Easter Vigil in the Roman Rite only began when I became a seminarian. It was a quite different experience attending the Resurrection Services on Holy Saturday evening in the Byzantine Ruthenian Rite. Witnessing the events … the new fire, light piercing the darkness, the deacon intoning “Christ Our Light.” The chanting of the Exultet, the ancient prayer of the Church that connects us to our brothers and sisters of old. Whenever I hear its words I remember years passed but also imagine that I am in a small church centuries ago rejoicing in the faith that is new and dangerous to proclaim. “Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of Angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King is risen! Sound the trumpet of Salvation!” Once more we tell our story of God’s love and intervention in our history. A different reality this year, but the memories sustain. In one of my former parishes, Gillian, a member of the youth group, stood at the foot of the altar and proclaimed the Epistle from memory. This young girl appeared on fire for God. At the Vigil, we usually invoke the Saints, our brothers and sisters are baptized in the waters of new life. Into the pool, washed clean, dying to their old life, these individuals find God and rise to new life, laying down their burdens, responding to God’s gentle invitation, and then our remembering our own baptisms.


Easter is our hope that even in our darkest moments Jesus is alive and with us! When Mary arrives at the tomb, the angel reminds her of what she intuitively already knows. “He is not here He is risen.” She then sees the gardener and when He calls her name “Mary!” that intimacy of friendship lifts her blinders and she sees Jesus. Just as when we baptized, each of us is called by name and responds. Our feast continues Sunday morning when all who thirst came to the church searching, hoping, doubting, and believing. Hoping that Jesus raised from the dead will transform their hearts and the whole world.


Seeing the risen Jesus in the other requires a spirituality of descent. A spirituality that moves me to the place of the servant providing hospitality to all those I meet. A spirituality that shifts me away from my needs and desires, to the needs and desires of others: to act with humility and pour myself out for others. Jesus was humble and humiliated, how can I give myself to the humble and humiliated in this world?


Easter teaches me to hope. With God all things are possible. Jesus’ rising from the dead triumphs over our greatest fear, transforms us and gives meaning to our lives. That transformative moment gives us hope that we too can be transformed and transform our world.


Consider that during the Easter Triduum, the risen Christ remembers and renews each one of us! Personally, in Jesus’ Passion, I have experienced the hospitality of service, the humiliation of violence, and the hope of resurrection. I have heard His call to live in hospitality and hope and to be a witness to the humiliation and violence of people lives. As I’ve heard in Triduums past, I hope to hear this Triduum, like Mary at the tomb, Jesus call me by name … Larry, come and follow Me! Happy Easter, everyone!

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