Category Archives: Maundy Thursday

Easter Triduum, or Your April Book of Days

April has begun. It begins, of course, with All Fools’ Day, April Fools. There is an old Welsh saying: If every fool wore a crown, we should all be kings. The tricks and practical jokes traditionally end at noon, but not everyone understands this and so I think it’s a good day to remain generally wary and on guard. The origins of this day are tough to pin down. There is a Norse god named Loki whose feast day is today, and Loki happens to be a trickster god. So that could be it. But there also is the fact that March 25 was once New Year’s Day, making the First of April the Octave of New Year and the end of the new year revels, and it is thought that perhaps the foolishness of the date goes back to very old new year customs.

Being the First of the month, it’s also time for the April edition of the ongoing Convivio Book of Days calendar. We offer it to you as a printable PDF. The calendar makes a fine companion to this blog. Enjoy it with our compliments.

This year, what begins as All Fools’ Day ends as Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, the night when we are invited to visit churches that will remain unlocked all night long, welcoming portals inviting us to be present with Jesus in his hours of tribulation as Good Friday approaches. Like last year, though, we will remain home, but typically it is a night when we visit three churches, as my grandmother Assunta taught us, though some people visit seven. I love this night, typically. It is such a bridge for me across time and space with the ones I love and the ones I miss, as I sit in the close and holy darkness of these quiet churches, meditating, praying, simply being. The moon is always present as I journey from church to church, a constant companion. This year, perhaps, a simple fire in the back yard may be the most appropriate way to mark the night. The moon will still be present, and where two or three are gathered… well, you know the story. But here ends the Lenten season, and here begins the Easter or Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday: the Last Supper, the Passion, and the Resurrection through the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

There is much more to read about these closing days of this week known as Holy Week, and you may do so in the previous chapter of this blog. (Just click “Previous Post” when you get to the bottom of this one, or click here.) Cover star for this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar is a painting called “Easter Morning,” by Caspar David Friedrich, from 1833. The trees have yet to leaf out in this painting, but by the end of this month certainly the rivers will be a’running and the vernal push will be rising through sap from root to bud as trees erupt in new green leaves. And sometimes we need a reminder like this: of how so much wonder can happen over the course of a month.

Image: “Easter Morning” by Caspar David Friedrich, oil on canvas, 1833, [Public domain], via WikiPaintings.

Pilgrimage

My grandma Assunta taught me her tradition for this night, being Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday. It is the night before Good Friday, and it was her tradition to visit three churches by dark of night. It is the Night Watch that begins after mass is celebrated. By then the sun has set and night has fallen. The Pange Lingua, the beloved song of St. Thomas Aquinas, has been sung, the statues have been covered in purple cloth, the blessed sacrament set on display amongst lit candles. The lights in the church are dimmed, and the crowds have gone, leaving but a few hardy souls who will sit and hold their vigil. Their pilgrimage, like my grandmother’s, will include three churches, or perhaps even seven. Grandma’s number was three. Seth and I do this each year, bringing the memory of all our loved ones with us, and this year we can’t, of course. But we have memories, and we have photographs of the pilgrimages we’ve made on Holy Thursdays in years past. It is always a night charged with mystery and magic and I always feel welcome in these churches, welcome like a weary traveler or a long lost son for whom all is forgiven, no questions asked. And so, purposefully, this chapter of the Convivio Book of Days is short on words, and heavily laden with images: to provide a pilgrimage of sorts for any of you who wish to join us, for these are the sights we see each year on this night, with the wind blowing off the ocean and the moon shining brightly, way up in the sky, beyond the towers and steeples of the churches, beyond the palm trees, beyond the clouds that drift like continents afloat on tectonic plates. And so we bid you peace on this night watch, and the hope that all will be well.

 

Ocean Breeze, Palm Trees, Distant Moon

And so we are in the midst of Holy Week. It came with a shock this year, as we watched the Cathedral of Notre Dame burn in Paris, a loss for which it is for many of us impossible to find words. Holy Week is a time I hold dear, even though I don’t think of myself as a particularly religious person. I write about all these holidays, these holy days, and they hold vast spaces in my heart, and I listen to an awful lot of sacred music and I sing hymns as I go up and down staircases, just because I like them, and I feel sick about Notre Dame, but more for its beauty and history than anything else. My connexion to things religious is mostly, for better or for worse, human. I say a silent grace before meals, when I think of it, but more often than not there is already a forkful of dinner in my mouth when I am beginning to say it. And I pray, mostly when I’m driving to work each morning; at some point a few years ago I decided I could make better use of my time during my daily commute if I switched to prayer instead of all the cursing and swearing that had, up until that point, been more typical of my drive.

These things are in my DNA. As a grandson of early 20th century Italian immigrants, I grew up with St. Anthony in the backyard. In the house, there were all manner of saints and blessed virgins under glass domes on bedroom bureaus and crucifixes hanging on the walls and prayer cards with saintly images leaning on picture frames. St. Joseph, St. Rocco, St. Anthony again, the Infant of Prague, Santa Maria della Vittoria––the Black Madonna of Lucera. The year after my grandpa died, which was just after I graduated high school, there was, during Lent, forty days and nights of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at our neighborhood church, St. Paul’s. I wanted to keep Grandma engaged. I had no idea what Adoration was, but Grandma expressed an interest, and so I brought her the first night when Lent began. And I brought her the second night. By and by, I brought her each night that week, and each night after. I don’t think we missed once, all through those forty nights. We would sit there, she and I, in the dark candle-lit chapel. Grandma would mumble her prayers in Italian, we would chat quietly, we would sing and pray when the priest came in to sing and pray with those of us who were gathered. We made friends: Father Brice, the pastor, Father Alonso, who was from Spain and who spoke so slowly that Grandma had no trouble understanding his English, Pat McAuliffe, the woman who made sure everything in the church was in order, and who often was out of her shoes anytime you entered the sacristy unannounced. Grandma and I would go late in the evening, maybe 9:30 or 10, and stay past 11, every night for forty nights. It was one of those things I never would have imagined myself doing, but I did it for someone outside my self, I did it for Grandma, and it turned out to be one of the most special things I’ve ever experienced. Which is often the case when you step outside your self and do things for others.

It was probably those forty nights that fostered my love of churches at night. And so it is that I have come to love another of Grandma’s traditions: the visitation of three churches at night for this same overnight watch on Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday. And still, all these years later, you will find Seth and me doing this on Holy Thursday this week, as we do each year. When we go and sit there in the still and candlelit darkness, I do pray a little, but mostly I just sit. I am right up against Seth, usually, but I also have Grandma nearby, and all the people who have come and gone in my life. We are all quiet, taking in the creaks of the building and the sounds of passers-by outside the doors and the flickering of the candles. This year, I suppose, I’ll have Notre Dame with me, as well. The heart expands, and expands.

Friday is Good Friday. I have never, in all my life, been to church for a Good Friday service. Each year I think maybe this year I’ll go. And maybe this year I will go. I have taken the day off from work, so that’s a good start toward the possibility. Friday night will, as well, begin Passover. It is a high holy week across faiths this year. Saturday brings Holy Saturday, the Easter vigil. Some years, if we have it in us, we endure the Vigil Mass, which can go on for many hours. It can begin only once darkness falls, so it is a late night. One year I really wanted to go but couldn’t for one obligation or another, so I went to the Creole service that began at 11. I was the only person there at St. Ann’s who was not Haitian. I was warmly welcomed, but my French is rusty and my Creole not much better and though I could understand only very little, still I could follow along. This, through years of experience. We sang in Creole, people shook my hand and offered me the sign of peace in Creole, and when we stepped out into the night onto the city street, it was well past 1 in the morning. I felt light and at peace. Again, one of the most special things I’ve experienced.

And maybe this is what I love about Holy Week. No matter how far I’ve strayed, I always feel welcome in the churches I visit on my journey this week, especially on Holy Thursday, that somber yet beautiful night through which many of them will keep their doors open clear through to the next morning, for we are invited: to keep watch, and to be present. The distant moon, our constant companion. Along with it, the ocean breeze, the silhouettes of palms. It is the most beautiful time of year here in Lake Worth. Open, welcoming, warm. As Lent concludes and we ponder the mysteries of this week and as we approach Easter… this warm, welcome openness I wish for you, as well.

 

Image: When I am visiting churches on Holy Thursday night, I like to wander around. I’m not sure if it’s sanctioned or not, but nonetheless Seth and I tend to wend our way into chapels, peep into unlocked doors, ascend staircases. This angel greeted us in an upper choir loft of one of those churches, perhaps St. Ann’s in West Palm Beach or St. Edward’s or Bethesda by the Sea on Palm Beach.

Music for the week: Several years ago, the Boston Camerata released a wonderful collection of songs for Holy Week. It’s called “Lamentations: Holy Week in Provence.” It is exquisite.