23 March, 2008

Darkness of Holy Week

Lent through Easter is my favorite time of the year. I feel a sense of solidarity with all of the scattered church during this period of the church calendar. We are so divided by little theological foibles, it's difficult to see past the different positions on transubstantiation and baptism style to the part where we worship the same God and follow the same Christ. Lent is taking on the suffering of Christ. When we suffer, I believe that suddenly these titles and denominations mean much less than they did. The human propensity for in-group/out-group definitions spilled into places that Jesus' ministry abhorred. The Kingdom of God is about breaking down the barriers that separate us from one another. It's goal is to undo the sinful effects of Babel and the Fall. When we further divide ourselves by denomination and political-affiliation, we are undoing the work of Christ.

That said, I spent most of this week in Catholic Churches all across Chicago. Wednesday night, I attended Tenebrae services at St. John's Cantius, the Archdiocese of Chicago. Tenebrae literally means Shadows. The service is a celebration of the darkness that hangs over the Easter Holiday in the preparation of Holy Week. It was incredibly moving. Most of the service is responsorial psalm singing. The psalms are intoned in the traditional chant using texts set down before Vatican II. In between several sets of the psalms, the choir responds with early-Renaissance pieces and the lessons are chanted as well. There are 3 parts to the service, focusing on Christ's Betrayal, His Passion, and Death. The three lessons come from Jeremiah, St. Augustine on the Psalms, and Paul's Epistles. The service begins with limited lighting, fifteen candles on the lectern and six on the altar. Throughout the singing of 15 psalms and choral responses, the candles are slowly extinguished until the center candle remains. This candle represents the life of Christ. Near the end of the service, a celebrant removes the candle and holds it on the altar while the choir sings. At St. John's Cantius, the Choir sang Allegri's Miserere Mei, Deus, a piece that I once sang (one of the quartet), as a member of Musicam Sacram. At the end of this fifteen-minute, yet agonizingly beautiful piece, the Christ candle was hidden from view. Suddenly a loud rumbling noise filled the darkened cathedral. Everyone in the pews was striking the benches and floor, symbolizing the earthquake at Jesus' death. I wanted to cry out, to express the tragedy of what I was feeling. This was one of the most hauntingly beautiful moments I have ever experienced in Church. When this finished, the candle was brought back, and using this as one of the only illuminations in the room, we left in silence.

I don't care about where I am next year during holy week, I will fly back to Chicago for this service.

Thursday Night, I celebrated Passover with a Seder at a local Catholic ministry for UIC students and then went on a Pilgrimage with them and their priest to 9 different Catholic Parishes in the Chicago-loop area, including the 2 oldest Catholic churches in the city. The point of the 5 mile walk was to visit the different churches that had moved the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose and pray in them. Often between churches, the group would pray a decade of the rosary with a recitation of Pope John Paul II's Luminous Mysteries by the priest. They understood that I was not catholic, and therefore I could pray however I wanted. We had lively discussions about what religion I was and what the differences are between whatever-I-am and catholics. I ended up praying in Latin most of the time, since I know the prayers better in Latin than in English. The ranges of experience in the different churches we visited were vast. Old St. Pat's was nearly completely darkened with the faithful constantly walking in and out, singing together: "Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray. Watch and Pray." This text is from the Taize Community. I don't know if they intentionally planned the Taize singing, but it added a wonderful and mysterious reminder of the Disciples' failure in the Garden. After the walk was finished, I spent the rest of the night keeping vigil with Jesus in the local chapel. Most of the time I wasn't directly in the room, but apparently tradition has it that someone should remain awake all night keeping watch with Jesus. Several pilgrims came to the chapel to pray with us for a time as well.

Friday, I slept. I woke up around 3pm and meditated for a while, and then slept again.

Saturday I attended an Easter Vigil service at Holy Name Parish, the oldest Catholic parish in Chicago (It survived the fire!). The service was energetic and very corporate. There is a strong African-American presence there, and its cultural influence permeated the liturgy, the music and the overall ambiance. I really had a wonderful time. I felt like I had found this amazing ice cream and then someone showed me how to put sundae toppings all over it! We celebrated the Easter Fire and the Lighting of the Easter Candle, processed around the church and followed the ancient liturgy. It's actually one of the oldest that we have. It starts with Genesis and Creation and moves through God's Faithfulness throughout the Bible. The tenor of the entire service is excited, hopeful and very happy. They welcomed new initiates into their family and baptized converts.

All in all, this has been a very fulfilling Lenten Season. I have discovered a lot about myself and where my place is currently. I am asking a lot of questions, and my horizons are very large. I hope these experiences will help inform my approaches to the Emerging Church.

Agnus Dei, quitolis pecata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, quitolis pecata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, quitolis pecata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

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rrobins said...

next year when you go, bring me with you. that sounds amazing.

Chris said...

I'd love to! Tell you what, Every time I plan to do something cool - I'll let you know first. How does that sound?

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