Being in a large city for Holy Week has been a rich experience. St. Agnes church (near Grand Central Station) where I stop in sometimes for daily Mass has a number of more traditional practices; the statues were covered with purple drapes this week. On Wednesday we attended a “Tenebrae” (from a Latin word meaning “darkness” or “shadow”) service at our Franciscan parish church here on 96th Street. I had never attended one, but it was a moving service of prayer and meditation with music…they have wonderful music here, with talented organists and soloists worthy of the Met…and lectors who are in theater.
One of the characteristic features of the Tenebrae service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and dimming of the lights, until only a single candle (considered a symbol of Christ) remains. Near the end of the service, the candle is carried out of the church with great solemnity, and all is dark while we reflect on the mystery of Christ’s death and the apparent victory of darkness and evil in our lives. Then a huge noise (the “strepitus“), done with organ and other assorted noise makers, symbolizes the earthquake / resurrection–and the Christ candle is brought back into church.
Holy Thursday was remarkable for the seamless use of English, Spanish, and French in most parts of the Mass, and for the lovely foot-washing ritual that was completely integrated into the reading of the Gospel. Liturgical drama at its finest. On Good Friday I went downtown to another Fransciscan church for a celebration of the Seven Last Words at noon, then returned home for the Good Friday service at 3.
Holy Saturday evening in our parish church was also memorable. Instead of reading all the long readings, they did a “collage” of all the readings, again using the three parish languages. All the Old Testament readings were done in the dark, and the lights came on when we got to the New Testament. About eight adults were baptized, standing in a depressed basin next to the fount, and they were BAPTIZED, with the water poured over them. They went to the sacristy to change to long white garments, and came out to stand in front of us to be confirmed. It was very moving; many tears of joy both from them and from us. The children are baptized at the Masses on Easter Sunday…which was also glorious.
May the hope and joy of the Risen Jesus be with you all!