Category Archives: Good Friday

Light

I’ve been off from work this past week, and it was a wise move, taking off for Holy Week. The days were spent on projects and in preparation. I got to spend time with Seth and with the cat as I finished binding a book that someone had ordered and got to work in earnest once more on the book proposal for the Convivio Book of Days. I started fresh, fresh like spring, and I feel better about the proposal I’ve begun this week, much better than the one I began last fall. My friend Cricket gave me a bag of coffee as inspiration for my writing, and all that’s left is enough for one cup: the cup of coffee I will have when I send her the finished proposal.

We also got to help my mom and sister with Easter baking and we got to go on our annual Holy Thursday night pilgrimage of three churches. It was Seth and me on that pilgrimage and we were out late into the moonlit night. So beautiful. And this year I got to do something I had never done before: I went to church for Good Friday. And that was fine, church was. But the sermon made me uncomfortable and I felt a bit disconnected, until it was all over, when we all left the old church in silence, as we are to do on Good Friday. But as we left, I could hear the sounds of the Creole choir, also from our church. The Creole congregation were in the midst of the Stations of the Cross, outdoors on the sidewalk in front of the older church building, the one from the late 1800s. Their music drew me in and I gathered round the old church with them, leaning up against a live oak tree. They were at the final station. There was wailing and sorrow and there was singing I had never heard before but which sounded so familiar. They made their way then to the main church, the larger, newer one, the one built in 1913. They entered, singing, and I went on my way, content, happier for having run into this extension of myself.

Saturday night, I’ll be back, for the Easter Vigil. It is the hours-long Mass that brings in Eastertide. It can begin only after darkness has fallen, for it is then the third day, which used to confuse me a lot until I realized that different cultures have different ways of reckoning time. No one way is right, for time is such a fluid thing and yet an invention of our making. It will be the beginning of Easter and the second night of Passover, too. We will be there, sitting, standing, kneeling, singing, praying, in a service that will begin in darkness and end in light––a central theme to the Easter Vigil. A fire is kindled and the one light is the source that illuminates all the candles in the church: the candles on the altar, the candles we hold cupped in our hands. We are reminded that light overcomes darkness. We are invited to be that light.

 

Bethesda by the Sea

I am writing this in a church, which probably is not very reverent of me. It is the overnight watch, as Holy Thursday dissolves into Good Friday. The Easter Triduum. Apologies for my irreverence, and also for years of leading you astray, as I’ve told you for years now that lent, that somber season that leads to Easter, ends with the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. Well, that’s not true. It ends, I’ve learnt just tonight, with the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. And so I apologize for years of misinformation.

While I’m pretty good with the secular stuff, I am certainly not your best source for liturgical information. Although I love churches (especially old ones), I have not been a very good churchgoer for a while now. My last time in a church was for Dad’s funeral mass last February, before lent even began, and not since last Easter before that. But I love ceremony and I love tradition, and I love this night. It was my grandma Assunta who taught us the tradition of visiting three churches on Holy Thursday, though three may have been a tradition of her own––visiting seven is more traditional, an Italian tradition coming out of the seven basilicas of Rome and the seven stations of the cross. But we do what we know and three is what I have always known. And there are meditations that we are supposed to reflect upon while we are in those churches. But me, I am a visitor. I like to visit and sit in the company of those I love, and so this is what I do here, too. It may be just me and a few other souls in this dark church tonight, but in my heart all the ones I love are with me, too. My whole family. No one is missing. This is especially important to me this year.

The doors of this church will remain unlocked through the night. The church is open this night because, in the Christian tradition, Jesus asks us to keep watch with him this night in his agony. He knows already what the day ahead will bring. And so we watch, we keep vigil. Just as I did with my dad, not that long ago. The candles are lit, the statues are covered. I sit with my thoughts, and I type these words. Irreverent or not, I’ve brought you all here with me, too. It seems right to me, it seems good, in a holy place where our hearts are open, and where they open further, that we should all be together, sustained by angels, for all our joys and sorrows.

Image: Outside the Church of Bethesda by the Sea in Palm Beach, in the courtyard, is this statue, which greets me each Holy Thursday on my journey. “Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda.”

Buona Pasqua

LaFellata

Come noon on Holy Saturday, that is today, lent is over. Or so this was the tradition in my grandparents’ home. The day before was Good Friday and my mother recalls that on Good Friday, the home was in a state of mourning, as if there was a wake going on (and back then wakes took place in the home). “You couldn’t turn on the radio,” she says. “You couldn’t even step on the cracks of the sidewalk.” She doesn’t remember whose rule that was, but it was, nonetheless, a Good Friday rule for my mom as a little girl.

But by noon on Holy Saturday, the mood shifted to one of preparation for the next day’s big feast. In their home, the Easter meal was usually lamb: chunks of it braised on the stove with garlic and onion, then mixed with spring dandelion greens, scrambled egg and parsley and grated parmesan cheese. In their dialect from Lucera the dish was called spetsada (and I’m not sure of the spelling, considering this is not true Italian). The lamb and the eggs bring important symbolism to the Easter table, foods we take in that tell the story of spring’s renewal through subtle hints of sacrifice and resurrection.

At Grandma Cutrone’s table, the meal was typically a fancy pasta dish like ravioli. And this typically is what our Easter table holds, too. The ravioli are always homemade and that part of the meal is always preceded by a special Easter antipasto called la fellata. It begins with a large platter (we like abundance, so the larger the better!). First on the platter are paper thin slices of salami and prosciutto, and atop them, rounds of pepperoni and soppresata, sliced hard boiled eggs, wedges of sharp provolone and slices of fresh mozzarella. In the very center goes an Italian basket cheese, which we usually call “cheese in the basket,” but just as my grandparents all spoke their particular dialects of the Italian language, even “basket cheese” seems like a sort of Italian-American dialect. Its proper Italian name might be canestrato, but basket cheese seems its most prevalent name, and the name comes from the cheese being formed inside a basket––once reed but now most often plastic––so that the impression of the basket is apparent in the finished cheese once it is removed from the basket and placed on the table. Sometimes, if the platter is just too close to overflowing, we might place the fresh mozzarella and the basket cheese in a platter of their own. If your fellata is to be truly delicious, you’ll procure all of these items from a good Italian market, rather than from the supermarket. (When’s the last time you had good fresh mozzarella from the supermarket?)

What separates Grandma Cutrone’s version of la fellata from that of my mother’s family is the addition of sliced oranges. Perhaps they began as leftovers from Grandma Cutrone’s St. Joseph’s Day altar in March, for she always placed baskets of oranges at her altar for St. Joseph. No matter how or why, the sliced oranges brighten the platter. They are cut in thick rounds with one slice from the center out to the peel, so that the orange sections can be pulled apart into a big toothy grin. And of course colored eggs and baskets of the taralli that were the focus of the last chapter of the Book of Days. (I included a recipe for taralli there should you be looking for a good Holy Saturday project.)

Getting through the meal at the Easter table at our house takes hours. Like the Easter Vigil Mass that begins at sundown tonight, it is an occasion not for the faint of heart. It is an event for which one brings a hearty appetite for food and for life. And as we toast each other at that table so we toast you: Buona Pasqua a tutti!