Friday, April 14, 2006

Blogging the Monastic Triduum ~ Holy Thursday (aka Bells'n'Smells)

The Triduum is where things really get interesting. Holy Thursday begins with a very different form of morning prayer than we generally have (and all this that follows is what we do here at our monastery; I'm not presuming to speak for all monasteries and such everywhere). Normally, morning prayer has a hymn, two psalms and a canticle, a scripture reading, the Benedictus, petitions, Our Father, and closing prayer. Holy Thursday has six or seven psalms, three readings, with no hymn, canticle, petitions, Our Father, or any doxology. So, it's substantially longer ... but the same basic drill for Good Friday and Holy Saturday as well.

It's very extra-cool, though. For one thing, entering into the solemnity, we get rid of the organ. One or two notes are played on the little organ (we also have a big pipe organ) to get us started, and then we're a capella from there. Now that we're back in church (with restoration, we've been in a converted meeting room for the past two years), the simple chant with nothing else going on is such an amazingly-missed sound. Then, while there are three readings, only one of them is actually read. We use the Lamentations of Jeremiah over the course of these three mornings. The first reading is a chant of part of the Lamentations done by the whole community; the second reading is another section chanted by a soloist; and only the third reading is read, and that is something from perhaps one of the prophets or one of Paul's letters.

Holy Thursday evening is when we celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper. During the reading of the Gospel, our prioress washes the feet of twelve members of the community. Benedict says that the abbot is to hold the place of Christ, and so it's an especially striking visual to have our prioress (basically, the female abbot) performing this service. Then, she concluded the reading of the Gospel once she finished the foot-washing, saying: "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." Coming from her, the one who has been such a great teacher and guide, at least for me, put it in a very tangible and real light.

The Mass this evening doesn't "end" ... in fact, the three Triduum services together, in some respects, are a single liturgy, with assorted absences of opening and closing rites. Basically, it's a very cool way to keep everything tied together. Since there technically can be no "Mass" on Good Friday (no consecration of the Eucharist), enough is consecrated on Holy Thursday to provide for both days. Then, after communion, there is a solemn removal of the Blessed Sacrament to some special place for adoration until midnight.

At the conclusion of the Mass and the "removal" of the Blessed Sacrament, we all remained in church for 5-10 minutes. While we sat, the liturgist and sacristicant and various helpers solemnly de-decked the altar in preparation for Good Friday. The candles, the altar cloth, the plants ... leaving behind a very stark, plain altar. After all, this is the night that Jesus is praying in the garden and getting arrested — not exactly a time for pretty flowers.

After Mass, we all went into the monastic dining room for the Agape meal. It's a special meal, with tablecloths, candles, wine and tiny loafs of bread on each table. As Jesus celebrated a special meal with his community, so too do we. There's a special meal prayer that we use to bless the bread and wine, and it's just a good time for fellowship with one another.

Besides the good food, there's an added reason for the extra-special fellowship — after the meal, we enter into the Triduum silence. Now, we have silence at various points around here; for example, once a month we have what we call "Sabbatical Saturday" where we get to sleep a little later, have a nice brunch, and then are quiet until Sunday Mass. Retreats are theoretically silent. But there's something very special about the silence of these days. Perhaps it's the solemnity of the church services. Perhaps it's because those of us if there might happen to be anyone who does not adhere completely to the silence (which we would never have anyone like that around here!), there's a little extra effort to really make it count. Sure, we talk whisper as necessary, but .... it's just a very cool time that I can't quite put words around.

Part of the monastic silence is that we don't even ring the bells. We have three bells that are hand-pulled (unless someone tips the third bell, in which case we need to climb up to the bell tower and un-tip it) five minutes before prayer, for three minutes (we also toll them when a sister dies and at her funeral, but that doesn't really apply to now .... hopefully!). Summoning us to Holy Thursday Mass was the last we'll hear of the bells until Easter morning. We have a wooden "clapper" (and no, it's not "As Advertised On TV") that someone will use while she walks around the monastery; the little clack-clack sound is the new call to prayer.

Which brings me to the add-on part of this post's title. All the ritual of Catholic liturgy is sometimes disparaged as "Bells and Smells" for the bells, incense, and other such elements. But there is something about using those elements to set apart certain occasions as extra-significant. Part of the Holy Thursday Mass, for example, involved incensing the altar, gospel book, and people; it's not an ordinary part of the everyday Mass, so it adds to the element that "This is a special night, a solemn feast." And with the bells — it's their absence that is most noticable (along with the organ); after a few days, though, we'll kinda be used to the silence — just in time for the silence to be shattered by the bells, organ, brass, and light. But that's not until Sunday morning .... I'm getting ahead of myself. This is only Thursday, after all.


Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

I am laughing about the clapper. I can't focus. Hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!


4/15/2006 2:11 PM  

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